Sandra J. Kuhlman, Ph.D.

  • Assistant Professor
  • CMU Biological Sciences
  • Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

Education & Training

  • Ph.D. in Physiology-University of Kentucky 2001
  • M.S. in Biology-Northwestern University 1996
  • B.S. in Biology-Gettysburg College 1993

Research Interest Summary

Influence of cortical inhibitory circuits on sensory development and perceptual learning.

Research Categories

Research Interests

How to build a brain for learning?
As adults we constantly face challenges in our environment and must adapt our brain circuits to deal with new situations. By splicing the DNA that codes for fluorescent proteins found in jellyfish and corals into the genome of mice, in combination with state-of-the-art multiphoton laser-scanning microscopy, we visualize and track the circuit changes that occur in the brains of awake behaving animals as they learn new skills.

How to build a circuit for learning in the first place?
The process of circuit assembly itself is finalized during the transition from childhood to adolescence, and influenced by experience. Construction must proceed correctly for further adult learning to occur. By comparing and contrasting learning in the young versus adult, we hope to identify, and ultimately rescue, the essential aspects of circuit construction that are vulnerable to deprivation and disease.

The specific goal of my research is to understand the influence of cortical inhibitory circuits on sensory development and perceptual learning. I use a range of techniques, including electrophysiological recordings of targeted cell types in-vivo and in-vitro, 2-photon microscopy, behavioral methods, and computational analyses. 

Representative Publications

Pafundo DE, Nicholas MA, Zhang R, Kuhlman SJ. Top-Down-Mediated Facilitation in the Visual Cortex Is Gated by Subcortical Neuromodulation. J Neurosci. 2016 Mar 9;36(10):2904-14

Kuhlman SJ, O'Connor DH, Fox K, Svoboda K. Structural plasticity within the barrel cortex during initial phases of whisker-dependent learning.  J Neurosci. 2014 Apr 23; 34(17):6078-83.

Kuhlman SJ, Olivas ND, Tring E, Ikrar T, Xu X, Trachtenberg JT. A disinhibitory microcircuit initiates critical-period plasticity in the visual cortex. Nature. 2013 Sep 26;501(7468):543-6. doi: 10.1038/nature12485.

Kuhlman SJ, Tring E, Trachtenberg JT. Fast-spiking interneurons have an initial orientation bias that is lost with vision. Nat Neurosci. 2011 Jul 12;14(9):1121-3. doi: 10.1038/nn.2890.

Kuhlman SJ, Lu J, Lazarus MS, Huang ZJ. Maturation of GABAergic inhibition promotes strengthening of temporally coherent inputs among convergent pathways. PLoS Comput Biol. 2010 Jun 3;6(6):e1000797.

Huang ZJ, Taniguchi H, He M, and Kuhlman S. Genetic labeling of neurons in mouse brain, in Imaging in Developmental Biology: A Laboratory Manual, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, 2010; p. 199.

Kuhlman SJ, Huang ZJ. High-resolution labeling and functional manipulation of specific neuron types in mouse brain by Cre-activated viral gene expression. PLoS One. 2008 Apr 16;3(4):e2005.

Kuhlman SJ and McMahon DG. Encoding the ins and outs of circadian pacemaking. Journal of Biological Rhythms. 2006; 21:470-81.

Kuhlman SJ, McMahon DG. Rhythmic regulation of membrane potential and potassium current persists in SCN neurons in the absence of environmental input. Eur J Neurosci. 2004 Aug;20(4):1113-7.

Quintero JE*, Kuhlman SJ*, McMahon DG. The biological clock nucleus: a multiphasic oscillator network regulated by light. J Neurosci. 2003 Sep 3;23(22):8070-6. *contributed equally

Kuhlman SJ, Quintero JE, McMahon DG. GFP fluorescence reports Period1 circadian gene regulation in the mammalian biological clock. Neuroreport. 2000 May 15;11(7):1479-82. see also accompanying preview

Morris ME, Viswanathan N, Kuhlman S, Davis FC, Weitz CJ. A screen for genes induced in the suprachiasmatic nucleus by light. Science. 1998; 279:1544-1547.

Full List of Publications