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Adam Douglass

Adam Douglass, PhD

Languages spoken: English

Academic Information

Departments Primary - Neurobiology

Academic Office Information

Research Interests

  • Dopamine
  • Zebrafish
  • Microscopy
  • Optogenetics
  • Neuronal Circuits

Despite their relatively small numbers, modulatory neurons contribute to an overwhelming number of essential behaviors. My lab exploits the relative simplicity of the larval zebrafish brain to understand how neurons that produce the neuromodulators dopamine and oxytocin shape locomotion, pain processing, learning, and social behavior, and in the process derive general principles for the operation of modulatory circuits. There are currently three, specific projects in the lab.

Dopaminergic control of locomotion

Normal dopamine function is essential for locomotion in all vertebrates. We have discovered that a population of dopamine neurons in the fish hypothalamus, defined by expression of tyrosine hydroxylase 2, is strongly activated during all forms of swimming behavior and promotes movement by sensitizing locomotor networks to sensory input. We are using a combination of molecular, microscopic, and optogenetic techniques to identify the targets of these neurons and describe how dopamine signaling shapes their activity to control locomotor output.

Oxytocin and pain processing

Although better known for its social functions, the modulatory neuropeptide oxytocin is central to many aspects of pain-related behavior. In collaboration with Caroline Wee and Florian Engert (Harvard University), we have discovered that acute activation of oxytocin neurons by painful stimuli promotes defensive swimming. We now seek to understand how coordinated oxytocin and glutamate release from these neurons affects downstream locomotor targets to elicit such specific behavior.

Danionella translucida: A new fish model for systems neuroscience

The zebrafish has become a popular experimental model owing largely to its transparency during larval stages of development, which enables optical interrogation of every neuron in the brain. However, larval fish are behaviorally immature, making social behavior, reward learning, and other important phenomena impossible to study. To investigate these behaviors using the full repertoire of imaging and optogenetic techniques, we are developing the zebrafish relative Danionella translucida as an experimental model. These fish are pedomorphic, remaining small (~10 mm long) and optically transparent into adulthood. The establishment of molecular, behavioral, and optical techniques in this species will allow us to understand how oxytocin and other modulators shape a variety of sophisicated behaviors.

Education History

Postdoctoral Fellowship Harvard University
Postdoctoral Fellow
University of California, San Francisco, Tetrad Graduate Program
Undergraduate Reed College

Selected Publications

Journal Article

  1. Wee CL, Nikitchenko M, Wang WC, Luks-Morgan SJ, Song E, Gagnon JA, Randlett O, Bianco IH, Lacoste AMB, Glushenkova E, Barrios JP, Schier AF, Kunes S, Engert F, Douglass AD (2019). Zebrafish oxytocin neurons drive nocifensive behavior via brainstem premotor targets. Nat Neurosci, 22(9), 1477-1492. (Read full article)
  2. Julien DP, Chan AW, Barrios J, Mathiaparanam J, Douglass A, Wolman MA, Sagasti A (2018). Zebrafish expression reporters and mutants reveal that the IgSF cell adhesion molecule Dscamb is required for feeding and survival. J Neurogenet, 32(4), 336-352. (Read full article)
  3. Gao J, Stevenson TJ, Douglass AD, Barrios JP, Bonkowsky JL (2018). The Midline Axon Crossing Decision Is Regulated through an Activity-Dependent Mechanism by the NMDA Receptor. eNeuro, 5(2). (Read full article)
  4. Schoppik D, Bianco IH, Prober DA, Douglass AD, Robson DN, Li JMB, Greenwood JSF, Soucy E, Engert F, Schier AF (2017). Gaze-Stabilizing Central Vestibular Neurons Project Asymmetrically to Extraocular Motoneuron Pools. J Neurosci, 37(47), 11353-11365. (Read full article)
  5. Kralj JM, Douglass AD, Hochbaum DR, Maclaurin D, Cohen AE (2012). Optical recording of action potentials in mammalian neurons using a microbial rhodopsin. Nat Methods, 9(1), 90-5. (Read full article)
  6. Kralj JM, Hochbaum DR, Douglass AD, Cohen AE (2011). Electrical spiking in Escherichia coli probed with a fluorescent voltage-indicating protein. Science, 333(6040), 345-8. (Read full article)
  7. Kaizuka Y, Douglass AD, Vardhana S, Dustin ML, Vale RD (2009). The coreceptor CD2 uses plasma membrane microdomains to transduce signals in T cells. J Cell Biol, 185(3), 521-34. (Read full article)
  8. Douglass AD, Kraves S, Deisseroth K, Schier AF, Engert F (2008). Escape behavior elicited by single, channelrhodopsin-2-evoked spikes in zebrafish somatosensory neurons. Curr Biol, 18(15), 1133-7. (Read full article)
  9. Douglass AD, Vale RD (2008). Single-molecule imaging of fluorescent proteins. Methods Cell Biol, 85, 113-25. (Read full article)
  10. Kaizuka Y, Douglass AD, Varma R, Dustin ML, Vale RD (2007). Mechanisms for segregating T cell receptor and adhesion molecules during immunological synapse formation in Jurkat T cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 104(51), 20296-301. (Read full article)
  11. Dustin ML, Starr T, Coombs D, Majeau GR, Meier W, Hochman PS, Douglass A, Vale R, Goldstein B, Whitty A (2007). Quantification and modeling of tripartite CD2-, CD58FC chimera (alefacept)-, and CD16-mediated cell adhesion. J Biol Chem, 282(48), 34748-57. (Read full article)
  12. Mahoney NM, Goshima G, Douglass AD, Vale RD (2006). Making microtubules and mitotic spindles in cells without functional centrosomes. Curr Biol, 16(6), 564-9. (Read full article)
  13. Finn DA, Douglass AD, Beadles-Bohling AS, Tanchuck MA, Long SL, Crabbe JC (2006). Selected line difference in sensitivity to a GABAergic neurosteroid during ethanol withdrawal. Genes Brain Behav, 5(1), 53-63. (Read full article)
  14. Douglass AD, Vale RD (2005). Single-molecule microscopy reveals plasma membrane microdomains created by protein-protein networks that exclude or trap signaling molecules in T cells. Cell, 121(6), 937-50. (Read full article)
  15. Collins SR, Douglass A, Vale RD, Weissman JS (2004). Mechanism of prion propagation: amyloid growth occurs by monomer addition. PLoS Biol, 2(10), e321. (Read full article)


  1. Tooley AJ, Jacobelli J, Moldovan MC, Douglas A, Krummel MF (2005). T cell synapse assembly: proteins, motors and the underlying cell biology. [Review]. Semin Immunol, 17(1), 65-75. (Read full article)

Book Chapter

  1. Douglass AD, Vale RD (2005). Single molecule imaging in living cells by total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy. In Cell Biology: A Laboratory Handbook (3rd, pp. 129-136). London: Elsevier Science.


  1. Cohen AE, Douglass AD, Kralj JM (2015). Optogenetic Probes for Measuring Membrane Potential. U.S. Patent No. US 9,057,734 B2. Washington, D.C.:U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.