talia.lerner@gmail.com
 

TALIA LERNER, PH.D.

Assistant Professor
Department of Physiology
Northwestern University

talia.lerner@northwestern.edu


Background

Talia received her B.Sc. in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University and her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from UCSF. Her graduate work in Anatol Kreitzer's lab focused on understanding the molecular pathways that connect dopamine, as well as another neuromodulator, adenosine, to retrograde endocannabinoid signaling and in particular to the control of endocannabinoid-dependent long-term depression (eCB-LTD) at excitatory synapses onto “indirect-pathway” striatal projection neurons. This work demonstrated that indirect-pathway eCB-LTD likely underlies at least some of the stimulant properties of A2A receptor antagonists (e.g. caffeine) and that the loss of indirect-pathway eCB-LTD following dopamine-depletion (due to lack of activation of dopamine D2 receptors) may mediate the development of Parkinsonian motor deficits. In particular, she identified a key signaling molecule, RGS4, that is required for dopamine to regulate eCB-LTD. The loss of RGS4, and therefore the loss of dopaminergic control of eCB-LTD, led to fewer behavioral deficits in mice after dopamine depletion, suggesting a possible non-dopaminergic strategy for treating Parkinson’s disease.

After completing her thesis, Talia went on to do postdoctoral research with Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University, where she shifted her focus from the effects of dopamine once it’s released to the regulation of dopamine release itself. She used a combination of approaches to map the circuit architecture of the dopamine system and to probe its functionality both ex vivo and in vivo. Ultimately, she demonstrated that distinct information is transmitted by dopamine neurons projecting to different functional subregions of the striatum, the dorsomedial striatum (DMS; known for its role in goal-directed behavior) and the dorsolateral striatum (DLS; known for its role in habitual responding), particularly in response to aversive stimuli. Recognizing that dopamine neurons projecting to the DMS and DLS signal differently in vivo begs the question of how these different signals are generated and disseminated more generally, both across a wide range of behaviors and from individual to individual.

In her new lab at Northwestern, Talia plans to build on her previous work using transformative technologies to dissect dopaminergic connectivity motifs and in vivo activity patterns by applying these findings to understand how differences in dopaminergic signaling and circuit incorporation underlie differences in motivation and learning across individuals. Identifying the precise circuitry underlying these variations in behavior will ultimately allow her lab to identify principles that can impact human well being.

GOOGLE SCHOLAR / researchgate / linkedin

 

FUN

In her free time, Talia enjoys art, writing, exercise, anything involving the outdoors, good food, good wine and good company.

 Celebrating at the top of Half Dome

Celebrating at the top of Half Dome

 Talia practices her monkey skills

Talia practices her monkey skills

 

SCIENTIFIC ANd mentoring PHILOSOPHY

The best science results from a combination of hard work and creativity. Although a career in science can sometimes require you to work long or odd hours in the lab, you should not make a habit of it. Doing so is more likely to harm your mental health than advance your career. Work the hours that are required, then get out and free your mind so that you can continue to innovate, to learn, and to be creative and happy and motivated.

For my part, I will not monitor the hours my trainees spend physically in the lab. Instead, I will judge you by the substantive progress you are able to make on your project, including your ability to troubleshoot problems resourcefully, overcome setbacks honestly and resiliently, and sort through initially confusing results with grit and creativity.

I expect all of my trainees to be responsible lab citizens: to keep the lab clean and organized and to be generous in sharing their expertise with others. Teamwork and collaboration are indispensable to a successful lab dynamic. Treat every person you work with, even the lowliest technician, as someone who may one day be your faculty colleague.

As your mentor, I pledge to support your career through all the stages of its development. I'm not perfect and I may not have all the answers, but I will strive to listen to you and steer you as best I can. I will always remember that you are first a person and second a student or employee. I hope that you will always feel free to speak to me about issues that come up during your time in the lab and involve me as a partner in resolving those issues.

 

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