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My laboratory studies the cellular, molecular, and activity-dependent processes that guide neural circuit formation and synaptogenesis in the intact central nervous system. The approach that we use is to combine early embryological, molecular, and behavioral approaches, and image neurons in real time in developing vertebrate embryos as a means to provide new insight into early mechanism responsible for proper neural circuit formation. By using Xenopus laevis as an accessible animal model system where the interplay between pre- and postsynaptic contributions to circuit formation can easily be teased apart, my laboratory has aimed to provide valuable insights into fundamental mechanisms of central nervous system development and to advance the understanding of development deficiencies that can affect brain function. We have made seminal contributions to the understanding of the functions of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and the classical axon guidance molecule Netrin-1 during coordinated presynaptic axon terminal and postsynaptic neuron differentiation in the vertebrate visual system. More recent studies focused on the differential cellular and molecular mechanisms by which Down-syndrome cell adhesion molecule (DSCAM) impacts retinotectal circuit formation and maintenance in the intact vertebrate brain and how these changes can inform us about cellular mechanisms by which DSCAM affects the human brain. Current studies are focused on the functions of endocannabinoids and essential fatty acids during the development of synaptic connectivity in the intact brain and the interactions between endocannabinoid signaling and neurotrophic factors during this key developmental process.