Mark Masino, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience

E-MAIL: [email protected]

Research Interests:

Most rhythmic motor patterns in animals, including breathing, chewing, limbed locomotion, and undulatory swimming are programmed in part by neural circuits called central pattern generators. These pattern generators often have, at their core, rhythmically active neurons or neural networks. The study of these pattern generators has yielded insight not only into the origins of rhythmic activity, but also into the functioning and modulation of neural networks in general. My primary interest is to understand how spinal circuits are structurally and functionally organized to generate different rhythmic motor patterns. In vertebrates, neural circuits are located in spinal cord and mediate rhythmic movements by the activation of spinal motor neurons via premotor interneurons. Therefore, different movements must, in part, be determined by the differences in activity of the spinal premotor interneurons. To understand how different motor behaviors are produced by spinal circuits, it is critical to determine:

  • Which classes of interneuron are involved in specific behaviors.
  • The synaptic connectivity pattern in spinal circuits.
  • The patterns of activity in identified classes during different
  • The intrinsic and modulated membrane and channel properties of theneurons invovled in the pattern generating circuit.
  • How perturbation of a circuit changes the behavior.

Until recently these issues have been difficult to address in vertebrate preparations because of the complexity of the spinal cord, the inability to monitor activity in identified classes of interneuron during different behaviors, the lack of appropriate genetic tools, and the difficulty in performing perturbation experiments. However, the larval zebrafish model system is an outstanding candidate to begin to address these questions. First, investigation of identified neurons and thus neural circuits is a tenable endeavor since there are a limited number of neurons in the spinal cord. Second, genetic and molecular tools have matured so that the identification and labeling of particular classes of interneurons is routine. The translucent nature of the preparation combined with conventional or genetically encoded indicators makes it particularly appropriate for optical methods of investigation. Optical imaging can be used to monitor activity in particular classes of interneuron during behavior. Finally, perturbation experiments can be used to examine the functional role of a particular class of interneuron in behavior, which may provide insights into the functional organization of spinal circuits. My intent is to exploit the convergence of these tools in studies which address the functional organization of spinal interneurons involved in generating different patterns of motor activity.

Selected Publications:

(For a comprehensive list of recent publications, refer to PubMed, a service provided by the National Library of Medicine.)

  • Wiggin TD, Montgomery JE, Brunick AJ, Peck JH, Masino MA. V3 interneurons are active and recruit spinal motor neurons during in vivo fictive swimming in larval zebrafish. eNeuro. 2022 Mar 10:ENEURO.0476-21.2022.
  • Montgomery JE, Wahlstrom-Helgren S, Vanpelt KT, Masino MA. Repetitive optogenetic stimulation of glutamatergic neurons: An alternative to NMDA treatment for generating locomotor activity in spinalized zebrafish larvae. Physiol Rep. 2021 Mar;9(6):e14774.
  • Koleilat A, Dugdale JA, Christenson TA, Bellah JL, Lambert AM, Masino MA, Ekker SC, Schimmenti LA. L-type voltage-gated calcium channel agonists mitigate hearing loss and modify ribbon synapse morphology in the zebrafish model of Usher syndrome type 1. Dis Model Mech. 2020 Nov 27;13(11):dmm043885.
  • Wahlstrom-Helgren S, Montgomery JE, Vanpelt KT, Biltz SL, Peck JH, Masino MA. Glutamate receptor subtypes differentially contribute to optogenetically-activated swimming in spinally-transected zebrafish larvae. J Neurophysiol. 2019 Dec 1;122(6):2414-2426.
  • Tye M, Masino MA. Dietary contaminants and their effects on zebrafish embryos. Toxics. 2019 Sep 7;7(3):46.
  • Montgomery JE, Wahlstrom-Helgren S, Wiggin TD, Corwin BM, Lillesaar C, Masino MA. Intraspinal serotonergic signaling suppresses locomotor activity in larval zebrafish. Dev Neurobiol. 2018 Jun 19. doi: 10.1002/dneu.22606.
  • Tye MT, Montgomery JE, Hobbs MR, Vanpelt KT, Masino MA. An adult zebrafish diet contaminated with chromium reduces the viability of progeny. Zebrafish. 2018 Apr;15(2):179-187.
  • Montgomery JE, Wiggin TD, Lillesaar C, Masino MA. The developing zebrafish spinal cord contains two, temporally-distinct, populations of serotonergic neurons. Dev Neurobiol. 2016;76(6):673-87.
  • Wiggin TD, Peck JH, Masino MA. Coordination of fictive motor activity in the larval zebrafish is generated by non-segmental mechanisms. PLoS One. 2014 Oct 2;9(10):e109117.
  • Decker AR, McNeill MS, Lambert AM, Overton JD, Chen YC, Lorca RA, Johnson NA, Brockerhoff SE, Mohapatra DP, MacArthur H, Panula P, Masino MA, Runnels LW, Cornell RA. Abnormal differentiation of dopaminergic neurons in zebrafish trpm7 mutant larvae impairs development of the motor pattern. Dev Biol. 2014;386:428-39.

Former Graduate Students:

Aaron Lambert (Ph.D. 2015, Neuroscience, University of Minnesota)

Timothy Wiggin (Ph.D. 2015, Neuroscience, University of Minnesota).

Picture of Mark Masino