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Harold A. Burgess, Ph.D.

Section on Behavioral Neurogenetics

Building 6B Room 3B-308
6 Center Drive
Bethesda MD 20892-
Office: (301) 402-6018
Lab: (301) 435-1499
Fax: (301) 496-0243

Dr. Burgess received his B.S. from the University of Melbourne, Australia and his Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel studying molecular interactions underlying cortical development. He did post-doctoral training with Michael Granato at the University of Pennsylvania, where he developed computational tools for high throughput analysis of behavior in larval zebrafish. Dr Burgess joined NICHD as an investigator in 2008. His laboratory now combines genetic and imaging techniques to study neural circuits required for sensory guided behavior in zebrafish.

Locomotor behavior in zebrafish larvae is controlled by neuronal circuits which are established through genetic interactions during development. We aim to identify genes and neurons that are required for the construction and function of brainstem circuits underlying specific behaviors. We use a variety of genetic techniques that capitalize on the optical clarity of the embryo allowing us to visualize and manipulate neuronal function, in combination with computational analysis of behavior for high throughput mapping of neuronal function.

In earlier work, we found that the larval startle response is modulated in a similar fashion to startle responses in mammals where response magnitude is inhibited when the startle stimulus is preceded by a weak auditory prepulse. This form of startle modulation, termed prepulse inhibition, is diminished in several neurological conditions including schizophrenia. One major project in the lab is to identify neuronal elements responsible for inhibition of the startle response in larvae, using both genetic and transgenic approaches.

More generally, the relatively simple nervous system of zebrafish larvae and restricted range of motor behaviors opens up the possibility of identifying neuronal pathways which underlie the entire behavioral repertoire. With this goal in mind, we are using an enhancer trap approach to identify and ablate restricted populations of neurons, and screening larvae with defined ablations across a large battery of behavioral tests. Lines with specific defects in behavior constitute a unique resource for decoding the developmental genetics and anatomical basis of behavior in zebrafish larvae.

Phototaxis in zebrafish larvae

Phototaxis in zebrafish larvae

Zebrafish larvae show remarkably direct navigation toward a spot light cue during phototaxis. This is accomplished by an OFF-turn, ON-approach strategy, in which larvae use information from OFF and ON channels in the retina to control distinct swimming movements. When larvae accidentally turn away from the target, one eye is exposed to the dark part of the arena, and experiences a drop in light intensity.

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  • Sadie Bergeron
    Predoctoral Fellow

  • Kandice Fero, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Eric Horstick
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Diana Jordan
    Technical IRTA

  • Zachary Moak, B.Sc.
    Post baccalaureate Fellow

  • Jennifer Strykowski
    Research Specialist

  • Kathryn Tabor
    Predoctoral Fellow

  • Tohei Yokogawa, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • 1) Fernandes AM, Fero K, Driever W and Burgess HA (2013)
  • Enlightening the brain: linking deep brain photoreception with behavior and physiology.
  • BioEssays, doi:10, 1002/bies.201300034.
  • 2) Yokogawa T, Hannan MC and Burgess HA (2012)
  • The dorsal raphe modulates sensory responsiveness during arousal in zebrafish
  • J Neurosci, 32, 15205-15215
  • 3) Fernandes AM, Fero K, Arrenberg AB, Bergeron SA, Driever W and Burgess HA (2012)
  • Deep brain photoreceptors control light seeking behavior in zebrafish larvae
  • Current Biology, 22, 1-6
  • 4) Burgess HA, Schoch H and Granato M. (2010)
  • Distinct Retinal Pathways Drive Spatial Orientation Behaviors
  • Zebrafish Navigation Current Biology, 20, 381-6
  • 5) Burgess HA, Johnson SL and Granato M. (2009)
  • Unidirectional startle responses and disrupted left-right coordination of motor behaviors in robo3 mutant zebrafish
  • Genes, Brain and Behavior , 8, 500-11
  • 6) Facchin L, Burgess HA, Siddiqi M, Granato M and Halpern ME. (2008)
  • Determining the function of zebrafish epithalamic asymmetry
  • Phil. Trans. R. Soc. , 364, 1021-32
  • 7) Alvarez-Delfin K, Morris A, Snelson C, Gamse J, Burgess H, Granato M, Gupta T, Marlow F, Mullins M and Fadool J (2008)
  • Tbx2b is required for ultraviolet photoreceptor cell specification during zebrafish retinal development
  • PNAS , 106, 2023-8
  • 8) Burgess HA and Granato M. (2008)
  • The neurogenetic frontier - lessons from misbehaving zebrafish
  • Brief Funct Genomic Proteomic, 7, 474-82
  • 9) Burgess HA and Granato M. (2007)
  • Sensorimotor gating in larval zebrafish
  • J Neurosci, 27, 4984-94
  • 10) Burgess HA and Granato M. (2007)
  • Modulation of locomotor activity in larval zebrafish during light adaptation
  • J Exp Biol, 210, 2526-39
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