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Neuroscience Homepage  > Faculty List > Masino
Mark A. Masino, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience
Masino Lab Web Site
masino at

Most rhythmic motor patterns in animals, including breathing, chewing, limbed locomotion, and undulatory swimming are programmed in part by neural circuits called central pattern generators. These pattern generators often have, at their core, rhythmically active neurons or neural networks. The study of these pattern generators has yielded insight not only into the origins of rhythmic activity, but also into the functioning and modulation of neural networks in general. My primary interest is to understand how spinal circuits are structurally and functionally organized to generate different rhythmic motor patterns. In vertebrates, neural circuits are located in spinal cord and mediate rhythmic movements by the activation of spinal motor neurons via premotor interneurons. Therefore, different movements must, in part, be determined by the differences in activity of the spinal premotor interneurons. To understand how different motor behaviors are produced by spinal circuits, it is critical to determine:

  • Which classes of interneuron are involved in specific behaviors.
  • The synaptic connectivity pattern in spinal circuits.
  • The patterns of activity in identified classes during different behaviors.
  • The intrinsic and modulated membrane and channel properties of the neurons invovled in the pattern generating circuit.
  • How perturbation of a circuit changes the behavior.

Until recently these issues have been difficult to address in vertebrate preparations because of the complexity of the spinal cord, the inability to monitor activity in identified classes of interneuron during different behaviors, the lack of appropriate genetic tools, and the difficulty in performing perturbation experiments. However, the larval zebrafish model system is an outstanding candidate to begin to address these questions. First, investigation of identified neurons and thus neural circuits is a tenable endeavor since there are a limited number of neurons in the spinal cord. Second, genetic and molecular tools have matured so that the identification and labeling of particular classes of interneurons is routine. Third, the translucent nature of the preparation combined with conventional or genetically encoded indicators makes it particularly appropriate for optical methods of investigation. Thus, optical imaging can be used to monitor activity in particular classes of interneuron during behavior. Finally, perturbation experiments can be used to examine the functional role of a particular class of interneuron in behavior, which may provide insights into the functional organization of spinal circuits. Therefore, my intent is to exploit the convergence of these tools in studies which address the functional organization of spinal interneurons involved in generating different patterns of motor activity.

Selected Publications
Anderson T.M., Abbinanti M.D., Peck J.H., Gilmour M., Brownstone R.M. and Masino M.A. (2012)
Low-threshold calcium currents contribute to locomotor-like activity in neonatal mice.
J Neurophysiol. 107(1): 103-13
Friedrich T., Lambert A.M., Masino M.A. and Downes G.B. (2011)
Mutation of zebrafish dihydrolipoamide branched-chain transacylase E2 results in motor dysfunction and models maple syrup urine disease.
Dis. Model Mech. 2011 Nov 1 [Epub ahead of print]
McLean D.L., Masino M.A., Koh I.Y., Lindquist W.B. and Fetcho J.R.(2008)
Continuous shifts in the active set of spinal interneurons during changes in locomotor speed.
Nat. Neurosci. 11(12): 1419-29
Mongeon R., Gleason M.R., Masino M.A., Fetcho J.R., Mandel G., Brehm P. and Dallman J.E. (2008)
Synaptic homeostasis in a zebrafish glial glycine transporter mutant.
J. Neurophysiol. 100(4): 1716-23
Zhong G., Masino M.A., Harris-Warrick R.M. (2007)
Persistent sodium currents participate in fictive locomotion generation in neonatal mouse spinal cord.
J. Neurosci. 27(17): 4507-18
Masino M.A. and Fetcho J.R. (2005)
Fictive swimming motor patterns in wild type and mutant larval zebrafish.
J. Neurophsyiol. 93(6): 3177-88
Higashijima S., Masino, M.A., Mandel G. and Fetcho J.R. (2004)
Engrailed-1 expression marks primitive class of inhibitory spinal interneuron.
J. Neurosci. 24 (25): 5827-39
Higashijima S., Masino, M.A., Mandel G. and Fetcho J.R. (2003))
Imaging neuronal activity during zebrafish behavior with a genetically encoded calcium indicator.
J. Neurophysiol. 90(2): 531-38
Hill A.A, Masino M.A. and R.L. Calabrese. (2003)
Intersegmental coordination of rhythmic motor patters.
J. Neurophysiol. 90(2): 531-38
Masino M.A. and R. L. Calabrese.
A functional assymetry in the Leech Heartbeat Timing Network is revealed by driving the network across various cycle periods.
J. Neurosci. 22(11): 4418-27
Masino M.A. and R.L. Calabrese. (2002)
Period differences between segmental oscillators produce intersegmental phase differnces in the leech heratbeat timing network.
J. Neurophysiol. 87(3): 1603-15
Masino, M.A. and R.L. Calabrese. (2002)
Phase relationships between segmentally organized oscillators in the leech heartbeat pattern generating network.
J. Neurophysiol. 87(3): 1572-85
Hill A.A, M.A. Masino and R.L. Calabrese. (2002)
Model of intersegmental coordination in the leech heartbeat neuronal network.
J. Neurophysiol. 87(3): 1586-602
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