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Jim Berg, Ph.D.

Manager, Electrophysiology

Jim Berg joined the Allen Institute in 2012 to lead the cell types slice electrophysiology project, bringing over 10 years of experience working in patch clamp electrophysiology. He characterizes the intrinsic electrical properties of genetically identified neuron cell types using in vitro slice physiology as part of the Allen Institute's cell types research program. As a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF, Berg established the role of the recently cloned TMEM16A calcium activated chloride channel in pain processing. Previously he studied the interaction between diet and epilepsy by using slice electrophysiology as well as engineering Perceval, a genetically encoded fluorescent sensor for energy metabolism. Berg's first experiences with patch clamping were as an undergraduate at Rutgers University, where he studied potassium current in auditory neurons and earned a B.S. in neuroscience. Berg received a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University.

Research

Expertise

  • Patch clamp electrophysiology
  • Molecular biology
  • Behavior

Research Programs

  • Cell types

Research Interests

The primary question that drives my research is – How do ion channel proteins influence neuronal activity and ultimately behavior? The neuronal membrane is comprised of a vast collection of ion channels, and the activity of these proteins defines each neuron's innate electrical properties. It is these properties, combined with the neuron's morphology, that govern how a neuron integrates various timed inputs to yield an outgoing signal. The dysfunction of individual ion channels can disrupt neuronal behavior and may lead to serious diseases such as epilepsy and neuropathic pain. I am interested in cataloguing the intrinsic electrical properties of neurons and behavior and learning how the genetic expression of different ion channels shapes these properties.

At the Allen Institute, we are currently building a team to record the intrinsic electrical properties of different cell types in the brain. We are developing cutting-edge techniques to increase the throughput of patch clamp electrophysiology from areas of the mouse brain in vitro. This program is highly integrative, as it uses Cre mouse lines generated and profiled for the Allen Mouse Brain Connectivity Atlas and will provide samples for morphological reconstruction and single cell transcription profiling by the anatomy and molecular networks teams, respectively. In addition, we work closely with theoreticians to provide data to test different models of circuit function.

Our goal is to provide a solid base of physiology data as a core part of the cell types program. In the future, as we build upon this foundation, we will expand the program to include other directions such as exploring the role of individual ion channels using specific ion channel inhibitors, or using optogenetic stimulation of presynaptic neurons to study a cell type's integrative properties. In the end, we aim to provide a valuable resource to researchers around the world who study the brain in both healthy and diseased states.