Spontaneous fluctuations of intracellular calcium levels have been shown to influence neurotransmitter phenotype specification, a crucial aspect of neuronal differentiation. By imaging changes in intracellular calcium concentrations using confocal microscopy, we are testing whether expression of voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) and neurotransmitter phenotype markers correlate with specific patterns of activity on a single-cell level. Each experiment is then assayed for specific gene markers, resulting in a given data set containing several hundred experiments. The data analysis for such experiments is extremely challenging given that a single experiment contains about 500 cells that are imaged 1000 times over the period of two hours to construct a graph of calcium activity. As each experiment creates two types of data (calcium signals and gene expression assays), with the goal of looking for patterns within and correlations between each data type, this project is a wonderful case study in statistics, pattern recognition, signal processing, and clustering techniques, all critical areas for studying large data sets.
Advisers: Margaret Saha, Greg Smith