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Michael Crair, PhD

Faculty Member

Center for Neurocognition and Behavior | Center for Neurocomputation and Machine Intelligence | Center for Neurodevelopment and Plasticity

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Neural circuit development

Most of the complex brain circuitry responsible for our ability to perceive the world with precision actually develops in the womb, before sensory experience is even possible. For instance, visual circuits responsible for our ability to perceive depth and see shapes and colors are already well formed at birth, however visual deprivation later in life leads to permanent blindness. Similarly, children are born with the ability to perceive a full complement of sounds but it is only later in life that they lose the ability to distinguish sounds that are unfamiliar in their native tongue. This implies that intrinsic mechanisms working in the womb, apart from sensory experience, are responsible for wiring the complex brain circuits mediating basic perception. Research in the Crair Lab examines the limits and links between genetic mechanisms and spontaneous or intrinsic neuronal activity in wiring the brain during development. We use a broad array of experimental approaches, from molecular-genetic to sophisticated optical imaging and stimulation techniques in living organisms to study the properties, role and mechanisms of spontaneous neuronal activity in guiding neural circuit development. Our research suggests that the remarkable development of complex brain circuitry that occurs in the womb is due, in part, to the generation of complex and patterned spontaneous activity in the peripheral nervous system that then spreads into and through the brain, wiring it along the way.




Michael Crair obtained his doctoral degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, and did postdoctoral training in physics and neuroscience at Kyoto University and Kyoto Prefectural Medical School in Japan and in neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. He was a faculty member at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, before joining Yale as a member of the Department of Neuroscience in 2007. He has directed Yale?s Vision Core Program, the Graduate Program in Neurobiology and was Deputy Chair of the Department of Neuroscience until 2017, then Deputy Dean for Scientific Affairs (Basic Science Departments) at the School of Medicine before becoming Vice Provost for Research at Yale University in 2020. His partner Pamela Petersen-Crair is a Psychiatrist at Yale and their sons, Benjamin and David, are Yale College undergraduates.