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Hongkui Zeng joined the Allen Institute for Brain Science in 2006 and became Executive Vice President Director of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in 2020. From 2016 to 2020, she led the Structured Science Division to develop and operate high-throughput pipelines to generate large-scale, open-access datasets and tools to accelerate neuroscience discovery. Since joining the Allen Institute, she has also led several research programs, including the Transgenic Technology program, the Human Cortex Gene Survey project, the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas project, and the Mouse Cell Types and Connectivity program. Zeng received her Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from Brandeis University, where she studied the molecular mechanisms of the circadian clock in fruit flies. Then as a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she studied the molecular and synaptic mechanisms underlying hippocampus-dependent plasticity and learning. Her current research interests are in understanding neuronal diversity and connectivity in the mouse visual cortical circuit and how different neuronal types work together to process and transform visual information. She has broad scientific experience and a keen interest in using a combined molecular, anatomical and physiological approach to unravel mechanisms of brain circuitry and potential means for treating brain diseases.
The brain circuit is an intricately interconnected network of a vast number of neurons with diverse molecular, anatomical and physiological properties. To understand the principles of information processing in the brain circuit, it is essential to have a systematic understanding of the common and unique properties for each of its components - the neuronal cell types, to monitor their activities while the brain is processing information, and to have the ability to manipulate these neurons to investigate their functions in the brain circuit. Combining genetic tools with large-scale imaging and single-cell analysis technologies presents us with the opportunity to gain systematic understanding of the properties, interconnections and functions of these cell types. My team at the Allen Institute for Brain Science has been building multiple platforms, including single-cell transcriptomics, single and multi-patching electrophysiology, 3D reconstruction of neuronal morphology, high throughput brain-wide connectivity mapping, neuronal activity imaging, and cell type-targeted transgenic and viral to characterize the transcriptomic, physiological, morphological, and connectional properties of different types of neurons in a standardized way, towards a taxonomy of cell types and a description of their connectivity matrix for mouse brain circuits such as the visual cortico-thalamic system. Building such a knowledge base lays the foundation towards the understanding of the computational mechanisms of brain circuit function.