Aaron Lambert

Ph.D. 2015

Thesis Title:

The Ancient and Conserved Dopaminergic Diencephalospinal Network is a Metamodulator of Locomotor Development and Goal-Directed Behavior In Larval Zebrafish

Current Position:

Principal Medical Writer/Consultant, Virgo Health, London

Previous Position(s):

Senior Medical Editor for BGB Group, New York

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Harvard University

Undergraduate Institution and Major/Degree:

Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, BS, Biological Psychology, 2005

Major Advisor(s):

Mark Masino, Ph.D.

Research Description:

My thesis is focused on investigating the role of the dopaminergic diencephalospinal tract (DDT) during vertebrate locomotor development.  While midbrain dopaminergic (DAergic) neurons appear to be a more recent evolutionary development, the diencephalic DAergic neurons that comprise the DDT have a conserved somatic location, ascending and descending projections, and require the transcription factor orthopedia (otp) for the development of cellular identity in both zebrafish and mammals.  Hence, the DDT is the most evolutionarily conserved part of the vertebrate dopaminergic system.  While studies in the neonatal murine spinal cord in vitro suggest an early locomotor role of the DDT, the function of the DDT in developing vertebrates in vivo has remained unknown.  I have recently demonstrated that the DDT mediates locomotor development in zebrafish larvae in vivo.  Specifically, my work has elucidated that DAergic otp neurons, via the DDT, provide the impetus for D4R signaling in the spinal cord to mediate the developmental switch to the mature locomotor pattern, which is concurrent with the advent of foraging.  These findings, integrated with the mammalian literature, suggest that the DDT represents an evolutionarily conserved neuromodulatory system that is necessary for normal vertebrate locomotor development.

Lab Rotations:

  • Ginger Seybold
  • Teresa Nick
  • Mark Masino
  • Matt Chafee

Courses Taken Beyond the Core Courses:

  • Neural Networks
  • Computational Neuroscience
  • Neurostatistics
  • Fish Physiology and Behavior

Committee Members:

  • Eric Newman- Chair
  • Paulo Kofuji
  • Teresa Nick
  • Mark Masino- Advisor

Conferences Attended and Presentations:

  • Society for Neuroscience annual meeting (2008, 2010, 2011, 2012)
  • International Conference on Zebrafish Genetics and Development (2012)

Selected Publications and Presentations:


  • Lambert AM. Dopaminergic control of locomotor patterning during development: A tail for the ages. Front Cell Neurosci. 2016 Apr 19;10:95.
  • McNeill MS*, Decker AR*, Lambert AM, Chen YC, Lorca RA, Johnson NA, Brockerhoff S, Mohapatra DP, MacArthur H, Panula P, Masino MA, Cornell RA. Abnormal differentiation of dopaminergic neurons in zebrafish trpm7 mutant larvae impairs development of the motor pattern. Dev Biol. 2014;386(2):428-39.
  • Lambert AM, Bonkowsky JL, Masino MA (2012). The conserved dopaminergic diencephalospinal tract mediates vertebrate locomotor development in zebrafish larvae. J Neurosci012;2 32(39):13488-500.
  • Friedrich T, Lambert AM, Masino MA, Downes GB. Mutation of zebrafish dihydrolipoamide branched-chain transacylase E2 results in motor dysfunction and models maple syrup urine disease. Dis Model Mech. 2012;5(2):248-58
  • Brink TS, Hellman KM, Lambert AM, Mason P. Raphe magnus neurons help protect reactions to visceral pain from interruption by cutaneous pain. J Neurophysiol 2006;96(6):3423-32.


  • Lambert AM and Masino MA (2012). The dopaminergic diencephalospinal tract contributes to development of the
    locomotor repertoire for foraging in zebrafish larvae. SFN 2012. New Orleans, LA. October, 2012.
  • Lambert AM, Bonkowsky JL, Masino MA (2011). The dopaminergic diencephalospinal tract mediates the developmental switch in the locomotor pattern of larval zebrafish. SFN 2011. Washington, DC. November 2011.
  • Lambert AM, Anderson TM, Masino MA (2010). Dopaminergic modulation of spinal locomotor circuits in larval zebrafish. SFN 2010. San Diego, CA.  November, 2010
  • Lambert AM, Anderson TM, Masino MA (2010). Modulation & perturbation of NMDA-induced spinal nerve activity in larval zebrafish. GPN Retreat 2010.  Minneapolis, MN.  March, 2010.
  • Dubocovich ML and Lambert AM (2008). Ramelteon phase shifts circadian rhythms of activity and promotes sleep in the rhesus monkey. Experimental Biology 2008 100th Annual Meeting of the ASPET.  San Diego, CA.  April, 2008.
  • Tiano J, Markowska M, Lambert AM, Dubocovich M (2007). Ramelteon differentially regulates the sensitivity of hMT1 and hMT2 melatonin receptors expressed in mammalian cells. Vol 30, Abstract #1032. SLEEP 2007 21st Annual Meeting of the APSS.  Minneapolis, MN.  June, 2007.

Invited Talks:

  • 10th International Conference on Zebrafish Development and Genetics. Madison, WI. June 2012.
  • Carleton College; Neuroscience Capstone Seminar. Northfield, MN. April 2012.
  • The University of St. Thomas; Neuroscience Club Seminar. St. Paul, MN. April 2012
  • The University of Minnesota; Graduate Program In Neuroscience Colloquium. Minneapolis, MN. February, 2012
  • The University of Minnesota; Graduate Program In Neuroscience Colloquium. Minneapolis, MN. March, 2011.

Honors and Awards:

  • Milne-Brandenburg Award (2010)
  • Competitive Predoctoral Fellowship on Translational Research in Neurobiology of Disease (TRINOD) NIH Training Grant (2010-2011)
  • Stark Award, 2012
  • 2014 MNDrive Neuromodulation Predoctoral Fellowship

Professional Memberships:

  • Society for Neuroscience
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics

Home Town:

  • Chicago, IL


Aaron Lambert