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Daniel H. O'Connor, M.A., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
Research Interests: Neuropsychiatric illness; Neural circuits; Circuit dysfunction; Sensory perception
Dr. Daniel O’Connor is an assistant professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
His research focuses on neural circuits for touch perception and his lab is working to reveal the neural circuit foundations of sensory perception and provide a framework to understand how circuit dysfunction causes mental and behavioral aspects of neuropsychiatric illness. In his research, Dr. O’Connor has discovered that whether we pay attention to a sensory stimulus or not is reflected in altered brain activity at a much earlier stage in the visual processing hierarchy than originally thought, and that changes in the strength of single synaptic connections between neurons deep in the brain can occur in rapid jumps.
Dr. O’Connor earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and neuroscience from Princeton University. He was a research specialist at the Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute before joining the Synapse, Circuits and Cognitive Disorders Institute at Johns Hopkins in 2011.
- Assistant Professor of Neuroscience
Departments / Divisions
- B.A., Hampshire College (Massachusetts) (1999)
- M.A., Princeton University (New Jersey) (2004)
- Ph.D., Princeton University (New Jersey) (2006)
Research & Publications
In his postdoctoral work, Dr. O’Connor conducted innovative investigation of the cortical circuit mechanisms underlying the sense of touch. He discovered that whether we pay attention to a sensory stimulus or not is reflected in altered brain activity at a much earlier stage in the visual processing hierarchy than originally thought, and that changes in the strength of single synaptic connections between neurons deep in the brain can occur in rapid jumps.
Dr. O’Connor applies advanced methods of behavioral analysis, electrophysiology, two-photon calcium imaging using genetically encoded sensors, and molecular gain- and loss-of-function manipulations to study the function of the cerebral cortex circuits. He investigates how the cerebral cortex circuits produce sensory perception and the ability to pay attention and how dysfunction in these circuits manifests as neurological disease.
Dr. O’Connor and his team use mouse models to study how brain dynamics affect a person’s sensory experience of the world. They train mice to perform simple perceptual tasks. By using quantitative behavior, optogenetic and chemical-genetic gain- and loss-of-function perturbations, in vivo two-photon imaging, and electrophysiology, they assemble a description of the relationship between neural circuit function and perception. They work in the mouse tactile system to capitalize on an accessible mammalian circuit with a precise mapping between the sensory periphery and multiple brain areas.
A current focus of the O’Connor lab is to address this problem using a simple model: gain control of the translaminar flow of excitation through the cortical column. In particular, we are examining how a dominant thalamorecipient neuron type in early sensory cortex is able to drive output projection neurons in layers 2/3 and 5, as a function of behavioral state and sensory expectation. These and related experiments will reveal the circuit and cellular mechanisms by which behavioral goals (such as understanding the radio show or navigating through traffic) regulate the propagation of action potentials along the causal chain from sensory transduction to behavior.
By unraveling circuits for touch perception in the mouse, they expect to gain key insights into principles of mammalian brain function, and to provide a framework to understand how circuit dysfunction ultimately causes mental and behavioral aspects of neuropsychiatric illness.
Lab Website: O'Connor Lab
Selected PublicationsView all on Pubmed
Procedures for behavioral experiments in head-fixed mice. Guo ZV, Hires SA, Li N, O'Connor DH, Komiyama T, Ophir E, Huber D, Bonardi C, Morandell K, Gutnisky D, Peron S, Xu NL, Cox J, Svoboda K. PLoS One. 2014 Feb 10;9(2):e88678. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088678. eCollection 2014.
Automated tracking of whiskers in videos of head fixed rodents. Clack NG, O'Connor DH, Huber D, Petreanu L, Hires A, Peron S, Svoboda K, Myers EW. PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(7):e1002591. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002591. Epub 2012 Jul 5.
Vibrissa-based object localization in head-fixed mice. O'Connor DH, Clack NG, Huber D, Komiyama T, Myers EW, Svoboda K. J Neurosci. 2010 Feb 3;30(5):1947-67. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3762-09.2010.
Reverse engineering the mouse brain. O'Connor DH, Huber D, Svoboda K. Nature. 2009 Oct 15;461(7266):923-9. doi: 10.1038/nature08539. Review.
Neural coding during active somatosensation revealed using illusory touch. O'Connor DH, Hires SA, Guo ZV, Li N, Yu J, Sun QQ, Huber D, Svoboda K. Nat Neurosci. 2013 Jul;16(7):958-65. doi: 10.1038/nn.3419. Epub 2013 Jun 2.
Academic Affiliations & Courses
Graduate Program Affiliation
Neuroscience Graduate Program
Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Program