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Harold A. Burgess, Ph.D.

Section on Behavioral Neurogenetics

Building 6B Room 3B-308
6 Center Drive
Bethesda MD 20892-
Office: (301) 402-6018
Lab: (301) 435-1499
Fax: (301) 496-0243

Dr. Burgess received his B.S. from the University of Melbourne, Australia and his Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel studying molecular interactions underlying cortical development. He did post-doctoral training with Michael Granato at the University of Pennsylvania, where he developed computational tools for high throughput analysis of behavior in larval zebrafish. Dr Burgess joined NICHD as an investigator in 2008. His laboratory now combines genetic and imaging techniques to study neural circuits required for sensory guided behavior in zebrafish.

Locomotor behavior in zebrafish larvae is controlled by neuronal circuits which are established through genetic interactions during development. We aim to identify genes and neurons that are required for the construction and function of brainstem circuits underlying specific behaviors. We use a variety of genetic techniques that capitalize on the optical clarity of the embryo allowing us to visualize and manipulate neuronal function, in combination with computational analysis of behavior for high throughput mapping of neuronal function.

In earlier work, we found that the larval startle response is modulated in a similar fashion to startle responses in mammals where response magnitude is inhibited when the startle stimulus is preceded by a weak auditory prepulse. This form of startle modulation, termed prepulse inhibition, is diminished in several neurological conditions including schizophrenia. One major project in the lab is to identify neuronal elements responsible for inhibition of the startle response in larvae, using both genetic and transgenic approaches.

More generally, the relatively simple nervous system of zebrafish larvae and restricted range of motor behaviors opens up the possibility of identifying neuronal pathways which underlie the entire behavioral repertoire. With this goal in mind, we are using an enhancer trap approach to identify and ablate restricted populations of neurons, and screening larvae with defined ablations across a large battery of behavioral tests. Lines with specific defects in behavior constitute a unique resource for decoding the developmental genetics and anatomical basis of behavior in zebrafish larvae.

Phototaxis in zebrafish larvae

Phototaxis in zebrafish larvae

Zebrafish larvae show remarkably direct navigation toward a spot light cue during phototaxis. This is accomplished by an OFF-turn, ON-approach strategy, in which larvae use information from OFF and ON channels in the retina to control distinct swimming movements. When larvae accidentally turn away from the target, one eye is exposed to the dark part of the arena, and experiences a drop in light intensity.

Staff Image
  • Ashwin Bhandiwad
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Nickolas Chu
    Post baccalaureate Fellow

  • Jacob Clarin
    Post baccalaureate Fellow

  • Tripti Gupta
    Staff Scientist

  • Jennifer Panlilio
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • LauraAnn Schmidberger
    Post baccalaureate Fellow

  • Svetlana Semenova
    Postdoctoral Fellow

  • Jennifer Sinclair
    Zebrafish Technician

  • 1) Horstick EJ, Bayleyen Y and Burgess HA (2020)
  • Molecular and cellular determinants of motor asymmetry in zebrafish
  • Nature Communications, 11, 1170
  • 2) Shainer I, Michel M, Marquart GD, Bhandiwad AA, Zmora N, Livne ZBM, Zohar Y, Hazak A, Mazon Y, Förster D, Hollander-Cohen L, Cone RD, Burgess HA, and Gothilf Y (2019)
  • Agouti-Related Protein 2 Is a New Player in the Teleost Stress Response System
  • Current Biology, 29:2009-2019
  • 3) Tabor KM, Marquart GD, Hurt C, Smith TS, Geoca AK, Bhandiwad AA, Subedi A, Sinclair JL, Rose HM, Polys NF and Burgess HA (2019)
  • Brain-wide cellular resolution imaging of Cre transgenic zebrafish lines for functional circuit-mapping
  • Elife, doi: 10.7554/eLife.42687.
  • 4) Marquart GD, Tabor KM, Bergeron SA, Briggman KL and Burgess HA (2019)
  • Prepontine non-giant neurons drive flexible escape behavior in zebrafish
  • PLoS Biol, 17:e3000480 (2019)
  • 5) Tabor KM, Smith TS, Brown M, Bergeron SA, Briggman KL and Burgess HA (2018)
  • Presynaptic inhibition selectively gates auditory transmission to the brainstem startle circuit
  • Current Biology, 28:1-9.
  • 6) Gupta T, Marquart GD, Horstick EJ, Tabor KM, Pajevic S and Burgess HA (2018)
  • Morphometric analysis and neuroanatomical mapping of the zebrafish brain
  • Methods, doi:10.1016/j.ymeth.2018.06.008.
  • 7) Horstick EJ, Bayleyen Y, Sinclair JL and Burgess HA (2017)
  • Search strategy is regulated by somatostatin signaling and deep brain photoreceptors in zebrafish
  • BMC Biology, 15:4.
  • 8) Marquart GD, Tabor KM, Horstick EJ, Brown M and Burgess HA (2017)
  • High precision registration between zebrafish brain atlases using symmetric diffeomorphic normalization
  • GigaScience, 6:1-15
  • 9) Horstick EJ, Mueller T and Burgess HA (2016)
  • Motivated State Control in Larval Zebrafish: Behavioral Paradigms and Anatomical Substrates
  • J Neurogenetics, 30:122-32
  • 10) Livne ZBM, Alon S, Vallone D, Bayleyen Y, Tovin A, Nisenbaum LG, Shainer I, Aviram I, Fuentes M, Falcón J, Eisenberg E, Klein DC, Burgess HA, Foulkes NS, Gothilf Y (2016)
  • Genetically Blocking the Zebrafish Pineal Clock Affects Circadian Behavior
  • PLoS Genetics, 12:e1006445.
  • 11) Bergeron SA, Carrier N, Li GH, Ahn S and Burgess HA (2015)
  • Gsx1 expression defines neurons required for prepulse inhibition
  • Molecular Psychiatry, 20(8):974-85.
  • 12) Horstick EJ, Jordan DC, Bergeron SA, Tabor KM, Serpe M, Feldman B and Burgess HA (2015)
  • Increased functional protein expression using nucleotide sequence features enriched in highly expressed genes in zebrafish
  • Nuc Ac Res, 43(7):e48.
  • 13) Marquart GD, Tabor KM, Brown M, Strykowski JL, Varshney GK, LaFave MC, Mueller T, Burgess SM, Higashijima I and Burgess HA (2015)
  • A 3D searchable database of transgenic zebrafish Gal4 and Cre lines for functional neuroanatomy studies
  • Frontiers in Neural Circuits, 9:78.
  • 14) Tabor K, Bergeron SA, Horstick EJ, Jordan DC, Aho V, Porkka-Heiskanen T, Haspel G and Burgess HA (2014)
  • Direct activation of the Mauthner cell by electric field pulses drives ultrarapid escape responses
  • J Neurophysiol, 112:834-844.
  • 15) Yokogawa T, Hannan MC and Burgess HA (2012)
  • The dorsal raphe modulates sensory responsiveness during arousal in zebrafish
  • J Neurosci, 32:15205-15215.
  • 16) Fernandes AM, Fero K, Arrenberg AB, Bergeron SA, Driever W and Burgess HA (2012)
  • Deep brain photoreceptors control light seeking behavior in zebrafish larvae
  • Current Biology, 22:2042-7
  • 17) Yokogawa T, Hannan MC and Burgess HA (2012)
  • The dorsal raphe modulates sensory responsiveness during arousal in zebrafish
  • J Neurosci, 32, 15205-15215
  • 18) Fernandes AM, Fero K, Arrenberg AB, Bergeron SA, Driever W and Burgess HA (2012)
  • Deep brain photoreceptors control light seeking behavior in zebrafish larvae
  • Current Biology, 22, 1-6
  • 19) Burgess HA, Schoch H and Granato M. (2010)
  • Distinct Retinal Pathways Drive Spatial Orientation Behaviors
  • Zebrafish Navigation Current Biology, 20, 381-6
  • 20) Burgess HA, Johnson SL and Granato M. (2009)
  • Unidirectional startle responses and disrupted left-right coordination of motor behaviors in robo3 mutant zebrafish
  • Genes, Brain and Behavior , 8, 500-11
  • 21) Facchin L, Burgess HA, Siddiqi M, Granato M and Halpern ME. (2008)
  • Determining the function of zebrafish epithalamic asymmetry
  • Phil. Trans. R. Soc. , 364, 1021-32
  • 22) Alvarez-Delfin K, Morris A, Snelson C, Gamse J, Burgess H, Granato M, Gupta T, Marlow F, Mullins M and Fadool J (2008)
  • Tbx2b is required for ultraviolet photoreceptor cell specification during zebrafish retinal development
  • PNAS , 106, 2023-8
  • 23) Burgess HA and Granato M. (2008)
  • The neurogenetic frontier - lessons from misbehaving zebrafish
  • Brief Funct Genomic Proteomic, 7, 474-82
  • 24) Burgess HA and Granato M. (2007)
  • Sensorimotor gating in larval zebrafish
  • J Neurosci, 27, 4984-94
  • 25) Burgess HA and Granato M. (2007)
  • Modulation of locomotor activity in larval zebrafish during light adaptation
  • J Exp Biol, 210, 2526-39
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