Benjamin R. Arenkiel

Ben Arenkiel



Associate Professor, Baylor College of Medicine

B.S., St. Cloud State University, MN, 1998
Ph.D., University of Utah School of Medicine, 2004
Postdoc, Duke University, NC, 2004-09

Molecular genetic studies to investigate mechanisms of neural circuit formation, function, and maintenance

The main focus of our research is to elucidate the basic mechanisms that guide the formation and maintenance of neural circuits in the mammalian brain. Using the mouse model, we apply multifaceted experimental approaches that combine genetic engineering, optical imaging, and electrophysiological recording techniques to better understand synapse and circuit function.

The nervous system is built upon an elaborate collection of cells that form precise patterns of synaptic connectivity underlying complex behaviors. How are functional brain circuits established and how are they properly maintained over an animal’s life? The blueprints for most neural circuits are specified by innate, genetic mechanisms. However, circuit architecture and function can be strongly influenced by neural activity. Exploiting the phenomenon of continued neurogenesis in the mouse olfactory system, we are investigating the developmental mechanisms that guide postnatal- and adult-born neurons to form and maintain functional neural circuits in response to synaptic activity and neuromodulatory input. Three objectives we are pursuing include: (1) identification of cell types that form synaptic connections with newborn neurons, (2) classifying the different forms of synaptic activity that influence circuit integration, and (3) discovery of key molecules that promote synapse formation and maintenance in the developing and adult brain.

Towards these goals we have engineered novel mouse models and viral vectors that allow us to mark and manipulate circuit activities in genetically defined neurons within intact brain tissues. Using opto-genetic, chemical-genetic, and trans-synaptic viral labeling methods, we have begun to unveil previously unknown patterns of input onto newborn granule cells as they integrate into olfactory circuits, including connections from resident olfactory bulb neurons, local and distant neuro-modulatory cells, and glia. We are currently characterizing these different neuronal subtypes in detail to better understand their timing and nature of connectivity, neurotransmitter composition, molecular-genetic profiles, and network influence following activity manipulations.

The long-term goal of our research is to form a deeper understanding of circuitogenesis, with the ultimate hope of gaining insight towards repairing or replacing damaged or diseased nervous tissue.

Selected Publications

Arenkiel BR
, Gaufo GO, Capecchi MR (2003) Hoxb1 neural crest preferentially form glia of the PNS. Developmental Dynamics 227:379-386.

Keller C, Arenkiel BR, Coffin CM, El-Bardeesy N, DePinho RA, Capecchi MR (2004) Alveolar rhabdomyosarcomas in conditional Pax3:Fkhr mice: cooperativity of Ink4a/ARF and Trp53 loss of function. Genes and Development 18:2614-2626.

Arenkiel BR, Tvrdik P, Gaufo GO, Capecchi MR (2004) Hoxb1 functions in both motoneurons and in tissues of the periphery to establish and maintain the proper neuronal circuitry. Genes and Development 18:1539-1552.

Arenkiel BR, Peca J, Davison IG, Feliciano C, Deisseroth K, Augustine GJ, Ehlers MD, Feng G (2007) In vivo light-induced activation of neural circuitry in transgenic mice expressing channelrhodopsin-2. Neuron 54:205-218.

Arenkiel BR, Klein ME, Davison IG, Katz LC, Ehlers MD (2008) Genetic control of neuronal activity in mice conditionally expressing TRPV1. Nature Methods 5:299-302.

Arenkiel BR, Ehlers MD (2009) Molecular genetics and imaging technologies for circuit-based neuroanatomy. Nature 461:900-907.

Arenkiel BR, Peca J (2009) Using light to reinstate respiratory plasticity. Journal of Neurophysiology 101:1695-1698.

Arenkiel BR (2010) Adult neurogenesis supports short-term olfactory memory. Journal of Neurophysiology 103:2935-2957.

Arenkiel BR, Hasegawa H, Yi JJ, Larsen RS, Wallace ML, Philpot BD, Wang F, Ehlers MD (2011) Activity-induced remodeling of olfactory bulb microcircuits revealed by monosynaptic tracing. PLoS One 6:e29423.

Garcia I, Huang L, Ung K, Arenkiel BR (2012) Tracing synaptic connectivity onto embryonic stem cell-derived neurons. Stem Cells 30:2140-2151.

Contact Information

Benjamin R. Arenkiel, Ph.D.

Department of Molecular and Human Genetics
Baylor College of Medicine
1250 Moursund St. – NRI, Suite 1170.12
Houston, Texas 77030, U.S.A.

Lab Website

Tel: (713) 798-1960
Fax: (832) 825-1240

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