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Science AMA Series: I’m Seth Blackshaw, I study the brain and how it controls sleep and I’m reporting directly from the Society for Neuroscience Meeting in Washington DC. AMA!
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Hi Reddit, my name is Seth Blackshaw and I'm a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. My research focuses on identifying the network of genes that controls how different cell types in the hypothalamus are specified during embryonic development, and on using these findings to both identify how specific cell types regulate behavior and determine how they can be replaced in neurodegenerative disease. I became interested in this work because I am convinced that to understand how neural circuits work, we have to name and catalog their basic components -- the thousands of different cell types present in the brain. If we can figure out how these cell types are made, we can then understand which behaviors they regulate and how they do so. We study development of the hypothalamus because it is a master regulatory center for many interesting and medically important behaviors -- ranging from circadian timing to sleep to aggression. I recently published a paper on Nature describing newly identified brain cells in mice that play a major role in promoting sleep.. My team observed that a specialized type of neuron that had never been found in this area of the brain before appear to connect a part of the hypothalamus, called the zona incerta, to areas of the brain that control sleep and wakefulness. This discovery could lead to the development of new therapies to help people with sleep disorders, like insomnia and narcolepsy, which are caused by the dysfunction of similar sleep-regulating neurons. I look forward to answering your questions at 1pm ET