Sanes received a BA from Yale and a PhD from Harvard. Following postdoctoral study at UCSF, he served on the faculty of Washington University for over 20 years, before returning to Harvard in 2004 as Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and founding Director of the Center for Brain Science. His work, published in over 400 papers, has been honored with the Schuetze, Gruber, Perl/UNC and Scolnick Prizes. Sanes and his colleagues study the formation of synapses, the connections that transmit information between nerve cells. For many years, they used the neuromuscular junction to elucidate the intercellular communication systems that lead to formation and maturation of this synapse. They also pioneered new ways to mark and manipulate neurons and the synapses they form. Over the past 15 years, they have focused on how specific connections form in the visual system to generate the complex circuits that underlie the processing of information. Most recently, they have leveraged their developmental and molecular findings to seek new ways to promote recovery following injury in the central nervous system. Their studies have led to discovery of key genes responsible for neural development and generated insights into neurological disorders.

Research Interests

The Sanes lab uses the vertebrate retina to address key issues relating to the development of complex neural circuits, the classification and characterization of neuronal cell types, and the factors that limit neuronal survival and regeneration following injury. Developmental studies have exploited mouse genetics to identify genes that regulate the patterns of synaptic connectivity that underlie the ability of the retina to process visual information. In studying cell types, they helped develop methods for high throughput single cell RNA sequencing, then used them to generate retinal cell atlases for multiple species, including mice, non-human primates and humans. These atlases provide foundational knowledge for mechanistic analysis, pinpoint key differences between retinas of humans and those of model organisms, and enable evolutionary analysis on the conservation of cell types across species. In translational studies, they identified cell types that vary in resilience to injury or disease, as well as gene expression programs that correlate with neuronal demise, survival and regeneration. They then manipulate genes identified through these screens to find targets that can be manipulated to enhance survival and promote regeneration.

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Primary Section

Section 24: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Secondary Section

Section 28: Systems Neuroscience