Dr. Yanfeng Zhang
Lecturer in Neuroscience
Hatherly Building, University of Exeter, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, EX4 4PS, UK
It is critical to learn what sensory inputs are predicting, and react fast to receive a reward and avoid punishment. I am interested in understanding the cellular mechanisms underlying this learning process.
During my PhD study with Prof John Reynolds, I revealed that the pauses in cholinergic interneurons may define the time window for phasic dopamine to induce plasticity, and depolarisation of SPNs constrains the plasticity to the target synapses (Reynolds, ..., Zhang†, Nature Communications, 2022). I also investigated how superior colliculus may gate visual classical conditioning (Zhang et al., in revision), and how striatal cholinergic interneurons integrate top-down and bottom-up inputs in vivo.
After joining Prof Stephanie Cragg's lab as a Postdoctoral Researcher, I characterised how cortical and thalamic inputs summate in cholinergic interneurons ex vivo with optogenetic manipulations (Kosillo, Zhang et al., 2016, Cerebral Cortex). By combining in vivo observation, patch clamping recordings and a computational model, I revealed the multiphasic activity in cholinergic interneurons is driven by excitatory input through a rectifying potassium current and modulated by dopamine signal (Zhang et al., Neuron 2018). Furthermore, I revealed a new mechanism of how cholinergic interneurons regulate the excitability of striatal dopamine axon and, therefore, gate dopamine release in the striatum (Zhang et al., in revision). Another project I am working on is investigating how tonic dopamine activity may gate phasic dopamine release in health and disease. I am also interested in potential treatments for Parkinson’s disease (patent application filed).
I also collaborated with E.N.T. surgeons to map sensory input from different parts of the vestibular and auditory systems stratified across the hippocampus's different subregions (Hitier*, Zhang* et al., 2020, Hearing Research; Hitier*, Zhang* et al., 2021, Hearing Research, cover story).
- PGDipSci (distinction)
My laboratory focuses on understanding cellular mechanisms underlying learning and memory, including how information flows in neural circuits during reinforcement learning, the pre-synaptic modulation of neurotransmitter release, and how learning and memory may form at synapses. I am also interested in exploring potential new treatment avenues for neurodegenerative and other neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease and addiction.
Techniques we use:
- Patch clamp
- Ex vivo and in vivo fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FCV) recordings
- Calcium imaging
- Next-generation neurotransmitter imaging
- In vivo single-unit recordings
- Behavioural tasks
- Optogenetic and chemogenetic manipulations
- Computational modelling.
External Engagement and Impact
Review editor at Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience