Russell S. Ray

Dr. Russell Ray



Assistant Professor, Baylor College of Medicine

B.A., Southern Oregon University, Ashland, 1999
Ph.D., University Of Utah, Salt Lake City, 2008
Postdoc, National Institutes Of Health, Bethesda, MD, 2009-13

Molecular and genetic events that give rise to functional neural circuits and how those events may play a role in neurological disorders

The study of neurons in their native in vivo context (i.e. the conscious and freely behaving animal) offers the greatest possibility for understanding how neurons integrate into circuits that control behavior, homeostasis, and how they may be disrupted in neurological disorders. Therefore, a major focus of the Molecular Neurobiology Group is to develop new technologies in the mouse model system that enable in vivo access to highly specific sets of neurons and circuits for genetic, molecular and functional studies.

By leveraging powerful intersectional genetic strategies paired with an array of genetically encodable effector molecules, the lab aims to determine the role of brainstem neuromodulatory systems in behavior, physiology and disease. We use both hypothesis driven and discovery based approaches to better understand how specific subsets of genetically distinct neurons integrate into larger circuits that regulate homeostatic reflexes and higher behaviors.

We aim to study brainstem neuromodulatory neurons from a variety of perspectives including their molecular and genetic profiles, development, anatomical organization, electrophysiological properties and function in the whole animal. From this multifaceted approach, we use both hypothesis driven and discovery driven methods to understand how brainstem neuromodulatory neurons are organized to coordinately regulate physiology and higher behaviors as well as how these processes may be disrupted in disease.


Genetic approaches to neurobiology in the mouse model system provide the cornerstone for our studies in the brainstem neuromodulatory systems. Our group uses intersectional genetics, pioneered in the Dymecki Lab, to enable the delineation of highly specific subsets of neurons in the CNS by their coordinate expression of two distinct genetic markers. Because the intersectional genetic approach is hard-coded into the mouse genome, we can express a number of genetically encodable effector molecules that facilitate studies ranging from theremote control of targeted neurons in the conscious and freely behaving mouse to the purification of translated mRNAs from those same neurons. With the introduction of additional recombinases, viral vectors, and biochemical techniques, we are continually working to increase our spatial and temporal resolution in targeting neurons.

Developmental biology

As many aspects of neuron identity are specified during embryogenesis, it is paramount to understand the genetic, molecular, and cellular events that pattern the central nervous system. Many central nervous system disorders are believed to be rooted in in intrinsic and extrinsic developmental perturbations. Thus, we are keen to understand how brainstem neuromodulatory systems are patterned during development and how they integrate with pre- and post-synaptic partners throughout the central nervous system to form neural circuits critical to behavior and physiology.


Understanding the spatial arrangement of neurons and their synaptic partners is a key step in determining the structure of the neural networks that govern various behaviors and physiology. A major goal of the laboratory is to precisely define neuroanatomical relationships through the use of intersectional genetic marking combined with enhanced imaging capabilities. We want to know, for example, how axon and dendrite projection topology relates to the functions served by a targeted set of intersectionally defined neurons. Importantly, we predict that such anatomical-functional mapping will help clarify how brainstem neuromodulatory systems integrate information to coordinately regulate autonomic function and behavior in response to salient external stimuli.

Disease Models

Much of our work is motivated in the hopes of understanding the molecular and genetic events that give rise to functional neural circuits during development and how intrinsic and extrinsic perturbations to these processes may manifest in physiological and behavioral disorders. Further, we hope such work will also inform upon neurodegenerative disorders that involve the brainstem neuromodulatory systems and often strike later in life. As more information is revealed about the molecular, anatomical and functional organization of these systems, we hope to build reciprocal relationships with clinical researchers to better inform up the underlying mechanisms in a number of neurological disorders as well as improve our models. By assigning a specific function to a highly defined neuron sub-population with in the brainstem neuromodulatory system, we hope to set the foundation for further work on diagnostic and therapeutic approaches such that an intervention for a given disorder does not affect the other many roles played by these systems in physiology and behavior.

Selected Publications

Ray RS, Dymecki SM (2009) Rautenlippe Redux — toward a unified view of the precerebellar rhombic lip. Current Opinion in Cell Biology 21:741-747.

Dymecki SM, Ray RS, Kim JC (2010) Mapping cell fate and function using recombinase-based intersectional strategies. Methods in Enzymology 477:183-213.

Ray RS, Corcoran AE, Brust RD, Kim JC, Richerson GB, Nattie E, Dymecki SM (2011) Impaired respiratory and body temperature control upon acute serotonergic neuron inhibition. Science 333:637-642.

Kong D, Tong Q, Ye C, Koda S, Fuller PM, Krashes MJ, Vong L, Ray RS, Olson DP, Lowell BB (2012) GABAergic RIP-Cre neurons in the arcuate nucleus selectively regulate energy expenditure. Cell 151:645-657.

Ray RS, Corcoran AE, Brust RD, Soriano LP, Nattie EE, Dymecki SM (2013) Egr2-neurons control the adult respiratory response to hypercapnia. Brain Research 1511:115-125.

Contact Information

Russell S. Ray, Ph.D.
Department of Neuroscience
Baylor College of Medicine
One Baylor Plaza T703
Houston, Texas 77030, U.S.A.

Lab Website

Tel: (713) 798-2624

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