Adam Douglass, PhD

Research Interests

  • Dopamine
  • Zebrafish
  • Microscopy
  • Optogenetics
  • Neuronal Circuits


  • English

Academic Information

  • Departments: Neurobiology & Anatomy - Assistant Professor

Academic Office Information

  • 801-587-8628
  • Biomedical Polymers Research Bldg
    Neurobiology and Anatomy
    20 S 2030 E, Room: 490D
    Salt Lake City, UT 84112


Academic Bio

The modulatory neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin play crucial roles in locomotion, learning, reward encoding, and a variety of other brain functions. We know very little about what allows the relatively small populations of neuromodulatory cells to fill such diverse behavioral roles. How is it that release of dopamine from midbrain nuclei affects an animal’s ability to move in one context, and causes feelings of pleasure in another? The answer certainly involves functional heterogeneity among modulatory cells, but it has been difficult to isolate the contributions of single neurons. We are interested in how differences in connectivity and activity among these neurons - at the level of single cells within an intact brain - dictate their behavioral roles.

To account for the varied effects of dopamine and serotonin on neuronal activity and behavior, we need a way to manipulate and record single-cell activity within ensembles of neurons. New imaging and optogenetic methodologies have dramatically improved our ability to do this. As an optically transparent vertebrate with a complex behavioral repertoire, the larval zebrafish provides a powerful model system in which to use these techniques. My lab has three, primary goals:

(1) Characterize the physiological interactions of individual dopaminergic and serotonergic neurons with the entire zebrafish brain. We are using a combination of molecular biology, channelrhodopsin-based photoactivation, and functional imaging techniques to determine how these cells influence neuronal activity. By comprehensively mapping such interactions, we will define the circuits that constrain neuromodulator activity.

(2) Create and extend new optical methods for studying neuronal function. During my postdoc, I helped develop a novel, voltage-imaging technique that allows one to visualize single action potentials in cultured neurons. We are now applying this approach to intact animals, and devising ways to combine it with optogenetics to better understand how neurons - including modulatory ones - talk to one another.

(3) Develop new paradigms to study learning and behavior in the larval zebrafish. Adult zebrafish are surprisingly smart, and very capable of learning. Recent efforts have hinted at similar capabilities in larval animals. We will devise new ways of looking at reward learning, locomotion, and other modulator-driven behaviors at these earlier developmental stages, when the brain can be studied in its entirety.

Education History

Type School Degree
Postdoctoral Fellowship Harvard University
Postdoctoral Fellow
Doctoral Training University of California, San Francisco, Tetrad Graduate Program
Cell Biology
Undergraduate Reed College

Selected Publications

Journal Article

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Collins SR, Douglass A, Vale RD, Weissman JS (2004). Mechanism of prion propagation: amyloid growth occurs by monomer addition. PLoS Biol, 2(10), e321.


  1. Douglass AD, Vale RD (2008). Single-molecule imaging of fluorescent proteins. [Review]. Methods in Cell Biology, 85, 113-25.
  2. 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.

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.