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Yanfeng Zhang


Postdoctoral Research Scientist

It is critical to learn what sensory inputs are predicting, and react fast to receive a reward and avoid a punishment. My research focuses on the cellular mechanisms underlying this learning process, more specifically, the roles of dopamine and acetylcholine systems in reinforcement learning.   

During my PhD study with Prof John Reynolds, I revealed that the pauses in cholinergic interneurons may define the time window for phasic dopamine to induce plasticity, and depolarisation of SPNs constrains the plasticity to the target synapses (Zhang et al., bioRxiv 803536, in revision). I also investigated how superior colliculus may gate visual classical conditioning (Zhang et al., in revision), and how striatal cholinergic interneurons integrate top-down and bottom-up inputs in vivo.

After joined Cragg lab, I characterised how cortical and thalamic inputs summate in cholinergic interneurons ex vivo with optogenetic manipulations (Kosillo, Zhang et al., 2016, Cerebral Cortex). By combining in vivo observation during my PhD, patch clamping recordings in Cragg lab and a computational model, I revealed the multiphasic activity in cholinergic interneurons is driven by excitatory input through a rectifying potassium current and modulated by dopamine signal (Zhang et al., Neuron 2018). Furthermore, I recently revealed a new mechanism of how cholinergic interneurons regulate the excitability of striatal dopamine axon and, therefore, gate dopamine release in the striatum (Zhang et al., in revision). This finding provides potential powerful treatments for dopamine-related diseases, e.g. Parkinson’s disease (patent application filed). I am working on a project to investigate how tonic dopamine activity gates phasic dopamine release in health and disease.

I also collaborated with E.N.T. surgeons to map sensory input from different parts of the vestibular and auditory systems stratified across the hippocampus's different subregions (Hitier*, Zhang* et al., 2020, Hearing Research; Hitier*, Zhang* et al., 2021, Hearing Research, cover story). 


Pauses in Cholinergic Interneuron Activity Are Driven by Excitatory Input and Delayed Rectification With Dopamine Modulation