Welcome to the Crablab at Illinois State University

We are studying the mechanisms that allow neurons to generate activity that is robust against perturbations. We are particularly interested in how neurons deal with changing body conditions and environmental influences. Climate-change-driven temperature changes, for example, affect the nervous systems of billions of animals, and hyperthermia and fever can severely damage the human brain. Surprisingly, we know very little about how the nervous system can respond to detrimental temperature changes and how it may remain functional when it heats up.

One focus of our research is on neuromodulators that are released in the nervous system, like neuropeptides or monoamines, and how they allow neurons to continue to function during temperature perturbations. A second focus is on how sensory signals are processed in the nervous system, and how they affect neuronal activity.

We take advantage of the well-studied central pattern generators of different crab and crayfish species to achieve an evolutionary perspective of these questions and to extract general mechanisms that help us understand neuronal responses to environmental stimuli. Because crustacean neurons are comparatively large, are exposed to many environmental influences, and have a known connectome, the same neurons and circuits can also be identified in many different species, which allows evolutionary comparisons. Importantly, neurons, networks, and their modulatory systems continue to function outside of the animal, and can be kept alive for many days ex-vivo. This allows us to study the cellular and network effects of varying environmental and paracrine conditions in great detail.


  • Our new paper on temperature compensation in the nervous system is out! Our newest paper is out in the Journal of Neuroscience: Margaret L. DeMaegd, Wolfgang Stein.Neuropeptide modulation increases dendritic electrical spread to restore neuronal activity disrupted by temperature. Journal of ...
    Posted Jul 29, 2021, 10:57 AM by Wolfgang Stein
  • We're hiring a new colleague We are hiring a 1-year postdoctoral scholar conducting research and teaching our Animal Physiology course. The new colleague can bring their own research projects and will have the option ...
    Posted Jun 1, 2021, 10:09 AM by Wolfgang Stein
  • Congrats to our two graduates! Congrats to our recent graduates, Josselyn Gonzalez (now with two Masters, one in Math and one in Biology) and Margaret DeMaegd (PhD in Neuroscience). Without official commencement, we had our ...
    Posted May 10, 2021, 10:02 PM by Wolfgang Stein
  • Poster Award for MS student Liisi Vink-Lainas Congratulations to Liisi Vink-Lainas for being awarded best poster presentation at the Phi Sigma Research Symposium 2021!  Liisi's poster is entitled "Habitat temperature determines the resilience of the ...
    Posted Apr 27, 2021, 1:04 PM by Wolfgang Stein
  • Student projects in our Biophysics course Neurons are always fun. Beautiful image of two STG neurons stained by students in our Biophysics course.  Social distancing and masks are not keeping us from research and education!
    Posted Feb 16, 2021, 4:34 PM by Wolfgang Stein
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