I spent my early years in Toronto, spending weekdays roaming the halls of Bialik Hebrew Day School, summers at Camp Tamakwa, and winter weekends on the small icy slopes of southern Ontario. When I was a senior in high school, I started working in a neuroscience lab at the Clarke Institute (now known as the Center for Addiction and Mental Health) with Drs. Brian Ross and Steve Kish on membrane metabolism in brain disorders (schizophrenia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.)
I did my undergraduate studies at McGill University in Montreal. I initially majored in computer science, but decided to follow up my lab work at the Clarke with some coursework in neuroscience. So, I created my own major: joint honours computer science and neuroscience. I spent a summer in the lab of Prof. Matthew Shapiro (now at MSSM) learning about hippocampal place cells and getting my first exposure to rat electrophysiology. It was a course on memory led by Prof. Shapiro that got me interested in the Recovered Memory Debate. I was fascinated by state dependent retrieval, especially in its most extreme expression: dissociative identity disorder. Each summer I returned to Algonquin Park in Ontario for a few days to commune with nature. My winter breaks were generally spent on the slopes of Whistler Mountain in British Columbia
Before committing to a life of academia I decided to give the "real world" a try. I moved to Cambridge, MA to work for Nevo Technologies. At Nevo, I wrote the web application that Harvard undergrads use to sign up for tutorial sections. I learned a lot about databases and team based software engineering. As well, I gained invaluable experience dealing with clients and the world (just barely) outside of academia. While I enjoyed my year at Nevo, I decided to pursue a career in neuroscience, specifically neural mechanisms of emotion and memory.
This led me to New York University, to the lab of Joseph LeDoux, a world leader in the neural basis of emotional learning and memory. I did my thesis there on Amygdala and Prefrontal Contributions to Fear Regulation.
After defending my thesis in April 2006, I spent some time in the LeDoux lab finishing some things up and started a postdoc with Carlos Brody in the fall of 2006. The Brody Lab moved to Princeton at the end of 2006. I moved to Princeton and spent 2007 building the lab with Carlos and the other members of the lab.
How is chaotic neural activity, driven by internal dynamics and external sensory input, resolved into coherent behavior?
Animals have many competing goals and drives as well as a barrage of sensory input to process. If our attention and actions are as frenetic as the world around us (as may be the case in attention deficit disorder) we will have difficulty accomplishing our goals. How does the brain deal with all of this competing input? How do brain structures deal with ambiguous or conflicting sensory information? And how do different brain structures communicate, influence and compete with each other so that the result of this competition is coherent thought and action? These questions cover a range of topics: attention, decision-making, cognitive control, planning, working memory, and others.
Current Research Projects
Our memory-guided orienting task is modeled after the classic memory-guided saccade paradigm. Using this task, we demonstrated that the medial agranular cortex (AgM) a structure previously hypothesized, based on anatomy and lesion studies, to be a homologue of the primate frontal eye field (FEF), shows striking similarity to the FEF both in short-term spatially specific persistent activity and also in the effects of temporary inactivation (Erlich et al, 2011).
A classic task for the analysis of executive control is the anti-saccade task (Munoz, 2004). This task, until now, has been exclusively studied in primates (humans and monkeys). In the Brody lab we have trained rats on a pro/anti orienting task where we instruct the animal on each trial whether the rule is pro or anti and then a target appears to the left or right. On pro trials the animal orients towards the target for reward. On anti trials the animal orients away from the target for reward. I have collected data from frontal cortex (both medial prefrontal cortex and the frontal orienting field) and the superior colliculus from this task. I am in the process of collecting additional neural recordings from animals that are also implanted with infusion cannula.
Poisson Click Accumulation Task
Our auditory click integration task is loosely modeled on the random dot-motion task that has been used extensively to study decision-making in primates. The rat has to sit still and listen to a stream of clicks coming from the left and right speakers. In order to maximize reward the rat must count the clicks coming from the left and right speaker and decide whether there were more on the left of the right. Careful analysis and modeling of the behvior of the rats in this task has confirmed that rats indeed perform the task by counting or integrating the clicks (Bruton & Brody, submitted).
I have performed muscimol inactivations of the frontal cortex, AgM in particular, and the posterior parietal cortex (PPC) of rats performing this task. To our knowledge, these are the first frontal and parietal cortex inactivations in animals performing an accumulation of evidence task. Our results, consistent with lesion data, show that unilateral inactivation of frontal cortex result in profound contralateral impairment. That is, rats were significantly more likely to make a response ipsilateral to the infusion site. Surprisingly, inactivations of the parietal cortex had weak and inconsistent effects on behavior. It was only when the AgM was bilaterally inactivated that unilateral inactivation of the PPC resulted in a contralateral impairment. This suggests that for this integration of information task the PPC plays a secondary role to the AgM. This is consistent with recent work from primates showing that PPC inactivations have little effect on instructed choice (Wilke, Kagan & Andersen, 2012). This work is currently being prepared for submission. This work is under review at Nature Neuroscience.
Flash Counting Task
This task is similar in spirit to the Poisson Click task but in the visual domain. While the subject holds still a sequence of flashes appear on the left and right. A reward is available on the side with the greater number of flashes. This project is in the preliminary stages of behavioral development.
Since 2009, I have taken up metalwork as a hobby. For my first project, I machined a pair of double pendulums, now refered to as the "classics", to bring to an art festival. In 2010 I upgraded the classics, learning from mistakes I had made the first time around. One aspect of the upgrade was to use a steel axle instead of an aluminum axle. This provided much more rigidity and so less energy was lost from wobbling. Another upgrade was to embed an LED and battery inside the outer pendulum. At night, persistence of vision provides a very nice trail of light, which can be approximated in photos using a high aperture and long exposure time.
After the success of the classics in 2010, I wanted a new challenge. Aluminum is a great metal in the machine shop. It is lightweight and relatively soft. However, with the hand controlled mills and lathes that I had access too anything shape other than a bar or cylinder was pretty tricky. So I signed up for a metalworking class at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York to learn how to weld and shape steel. Unfortunately, there was no furnace at the studio at SVA so we were limited to cutting, with saws, and my favorite, the plasma cutter. A plasma cutter lets you cut through a sheet of steel like a hot knife through butter. Although the studio had a computer controlled plasma cutter, I did all my cutting by hand. Using a MIG welder and the plasma cutter I made the octostar pendulum as a gift to friends in Brooklyn.
Erlich, J. C., Bush, D. E. A., and Ledoux, J. E. (2012). The role of the lateral amygdala in the retrieval and maintenance of fear-memories formed by repeated probabilistic reinforcement. Front Behav Neurosci 6, 16. link
Erlich, J. C., Bialek, M., and Brody, C. D. (2011). A cortical substrate for memory-guided orienting in the rat. Neuron 72, 330-343. link
Pai, S., Erlich, J. C., Kopec, C., and Brody, C. D. (2011). Minimal impairment in a rat model of duration discrimination following excitotoxic lesions of primary auditory and prefrontal cortices. Front Syst Neurosci 5, 74. link
Ross, B. M., Moszczynska, A., Erlich, J., and Kish, S. J. (1998a). Low activity of key phospholipid catabolic and anabolic enzymes in human substantia nigra: possible implications for Parkinson's disease. Neuroscience 83, 791-798.pdf
Ross, B. M., Moszczynska, A., Erlich, J., and Kish, S. J. (1998b). Phospholipid-metabolizing enzymes in Alzheimer's disease: increased lysophospholipid acyltransferase activity and decreased phospholipase A2 activity. J Neurochem 70, 786-793.pdf
Ross, B. M., Hudson, C., Erlich, J., Warsh, J. J., and Kish, S. J. (1997). Increased phospholipid breakdown in schizophrenia. Evidence for the involvement of a calcium-independent phospholipase A2. Arch Gen Psychiatry 54, 487-494. pdf
Jeffrey C. Erlich (2006) Ph.D. Thesis. To Fear or Not to Fear: The role of the amygdala & prefrontal cortex
in the regulation of fear.pdf
Jeffrey C. Erlich (1997) The Recovered Memory Debate. pdf
During my graduate work I became very frustrated with the cost and complication of moveable microdrives. When I arrived in Princeton, I researched a design for a cheap and easy to build design. I found a design based on a bic pen. I heavily modified the design, and after several iterations and feedback from lab members, we have a very light, very cheap moveable microdrive that has been used to successfully record from many thousands of neurons in the Brody lab, including individual animals with hundreds of single units over the course of months. The details of the design and the surgical techniques that result in months of viable recording are being written up as a methods paper.
MATLAB is the programming environment of choice in the Brody Lab (and really neuroscience). I have written thousands of lines of MATLAB code and it is certainly the programming language that I am currently most fluent in. MATLAB has obvious benefits. As an interpreted language where a matrix is a primitive data type, development for analysis of data is extremely fast. There are thousands of built in functions and features that allow the quick visualization of data. It is fairly easy to read and debug. However, there are lots of things not to like about MATLAB. First, it is expensive and proprietary. Many people in the scientific community prefer the FOSS R or Python with SciPy, NumPy and MatplotLib. I have had a little bit of exposure to R and Python, but I would not say that I am fluent in either language.
Shell scripts and Unix commands
BASH shell scripts using unix commands such as
sed, awk, find, and
grep are my goto for file manipulation and computer administration. My favorite thing about MacOS is that underneath all the gloss is a very Unix like OS which can be accessed through the terminal.
The Brody lab also has several linux servers that host our subversion code repositories, video archives, wiki, web server, and MySQL databases. Knowing my way around BASH shell has come in very handy.
Java is a fantastic FOSS language with strict object-oriented rules. Non-graphical java code runs fairly seamlessly across platforms, and is a good choice for cross-platform development. My work at Nevo was all in Java, but since then my java skills have gotten a bit rusty. I recently refreshed my Java skills writing a cross-platform java client that runs on the linux computers in the behavioral training facility to help us monitor and maintain those computers. The monitoring system was written by another postdoc in the lab, Chuck Kopec, originally for windows machines only.
During my time as a computer science undergraduate I was exposed to many other programming languages: Pascal, C, Scheme, and 68040 Assembly. Notably, I wrote an artificial intelligence checkers program, Little Wing
, in C. Little Wing
was undefeatable since it would search
about 14 moves ahead in a few seconds on a 1997 computer. It did end many games in a stalemate.
During my year at Nevo I became aquainted with relational databases (Oracle, specifically). When I returned to academia, i began to use MySQL to store, organize and analyze my data. Additionally, I wrote a message passing system using MATLAB and MySQL that allowed me to run analysis jobs on any machine that could run MATLAB, essentially turning the NYU neuroscience network into a computing grid. This allowed me to run statistical analyses in hours instead of weeks.
When I joined the Brody lab, MySQL was an obvious choice for helping to administer the high-throughput behavioral training facility. I also refined the message passing system into the Brody Computing Grid, so that the computers that are used for training rats during the day can be used for analysis and simulation at night. Best of all MySQL is free and open source (FOSS) software. It was acquired by Oracle in 2009 which sparked the fork of MySQL into MariaDB which is a binary equivalent of MySQL but is completely GPL and not affiliated with Oracle.
I'm very interested in non-relational databases such as SciDB which are designed for large continuous data sets, such as astronomical data. This kind of database would be appropriate for storage and analysis of continuous electrophysiological data or video. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the time to install it and try it out. If you have experience with SciDB and neuroscience get in touch!.