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Bo Li

Associate Professor
Ph.D., The University of British Columbia, 2003

(516) 367-8485 (p)
  Li Lab Website
My group studies the neural circuits underlying cognitive function and dysfunction as they relate to anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and autism.  We use sophisticated technologies to manipulate specific neural circuits in the rodent brain to determine their role in behavior.  We are interested in changes in synaptic strength that may underlie mental disorders.
Dysfunction of synapses in the brain is thought to have an important role in the pathogenesis of major psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. But what are the causes? Where in the brain does the dysfunction occur? How does it result in the behavioral symptoms of illness? To address these issues, Bo Li and colleagues are studying, in animals, normal synaptic plasticity underlying adaptive behaviors and synaptic aberrations responsible for maladaptive behaviors that are related to depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Their long-term goal is to develop methods allowing the manipulation of activity in specific brain circuits in order to change disease-related behaviors. Li’s group uses a variety of methodologies, including patch-clamp recording and calcium imaging of labeled neurons, two-photon imaging of spine morphology and tagged receptors, in vivo stereotaxic virus injection, RNA interference (RNAi)-based gene silencing, activation of specific axon terminals using light-gated cation channels, activation or silencing of specific brain regions using transgenes, and assessment of the behavioral consequences of certain manipulations. A project focusing initially on a gene called ErbB4 seeks to determine the genetic causes of attention deficit, a cognitive impairment that is consistently observed in schizophrenia. This year, Li and his lab members demonstrated that neurons in a tiny area of the mammalian brain called the central amygdala encode fear memory and control fear expression. These findings laid the foundation for future work aimed at understanding the circuit mechanisms of anxiety disorders, in particular post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Wang, M., Perova, Z., Arenkiel, B.R., and Li, B.  2014.  Synaptic modifications in the medial prefrontal cortex in susceptibility and resilience to stress.  The Journal of Neuroscience 34:7485­–7492. 

Penzo, M.A., Robert, V., and Li, B. 2014.  Fear conditioning potentiates synaptic transmission onto long-range projection neurons in the lateral subdivision of the central amygdala. The Journal of Neuroscience 34:2432–2437.

Li, H., Penzo, M.A., Taniguchi, H., Kopec, C.D., Huang, Z.J., and Li, B. 2013.  Experience-dependent modification of a central amygdala fear circuit.  Nat. Neurosci. 16: 332–339.

Li, B., Piriz, J., Mirrione, M., Chung, C., Proulx, C., Schulz, D., Henn, F., and Malinow, R. 2011. Synaptic potentiation onto habenula neurons in the learned helplessness model of depression. Nature 470: 535–539.

Li, B., Woo, R.S., Mei, L. and Malinow, R. 2007. The neuregulin1 receptor erbB4 controls glutamatergic synapse maturation and plasticity. Neuron 54: 583–597.

Archived Publications
Stanley Institute
My lab seeks to understand the link between neural circuits and behavior. By probing and manipulating specific circuits in the rodent brain, we study synaptic and circuit mechanisms underlying cognitive functions such as attention, learning and memory, and dysfunctions associated with pathophysiology in schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.