Prakash Devaraju, Ph.D.

Staff Research Associate, The University of Utah

Prakash Devaraju initially trained in veterinary medicine and surgery for eight years in India and later earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience in 2011 under the mentorship of Glenn I. Hatton and Todd A. Fiacco at the University of California, Riverside. His postdoctoral work in the laboratory of Stanislav S. Zakharenko at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital from 2011–2019 focused on hippocampus-dependent memory deficits in mice models of 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, a clinically relevant genetic abnormality which drives risk for neuropsychiatric disorders. Devaraju joined the Frost Lab at the University of Utah in the summer of 2022, where his research focuses on understanding how loss of autism-risk gene Shank3 alters the function of prefrontal microcircuits during behavior. Specifically, Devaraju’s project aims to understand how these changes alter the recruitment of neuronal ensembles underlying social and anxiety-related behaviors. He has extensive experience in electrophysiology, calcium imaging, stereotactic surgeries and mouse behavior.

Principal Investigator: Nicholas Frost

Fellow: Amaya Chikuni

Undergraduate Fellow Project:

During behavior, the brain represents information across distributed circuits in a reliable manner. These representations are altered in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. Shank3 is a postsynaptic scaffolding molecule which is critical for synapse structure and function, and mutations in Shank3 result in autism and intellectual disability. We have previously shown that mice lacking Shank3 have abnormal activity and ensemble recruitment during social interactions, suggesting that emergent circuit properties are altered in these mice. Specifically, hyperdynamic ensemble recruitment in these mice results in inefficient and imprecise recruitment of neuronal activity. The primary goal of this project is to understand how this change in ensemble recruitment alters the routing of information within the prefrontal cortex during behavior. We utilize in vivo calcium recordings to record from large numbers of neurons in freely moving mice during social and anxiety-related behaviors to understand how the activity of neurons receiving input from upstream brain regions or projecting to specific downstream regions is altered in mutant mice. Students will learn to perform and analyze mouse behavioral experiments, collect calcium imaging datasets, and perform optogenetic and chemogenetic assays to alter circuit function.

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