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.


  • 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
  • Image of Research Finalist Our PhD candidate Margaret DeMaegd is a finalist for the ISU 'Image of Research' contest with her photo "Carcinization". Congrats! The people's choice poll will be coming soon!https ...
    Posted Feb 16, 2021, 4:35 PM by Wolfgang Stein
  • Our new review paper on the effects of climate change on crustacean nervous systems is out Our newest paper with Steffen Harzsch in Greifswald discusses crustacean brains in times of climate change! https://www.sciencedirect.com/.../pii/S094420062030146X
    Posted Feb 16, 2021, 3:59 PM by Wolfgang Stein
  • Newest paper is out in the Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education In this paper, we outline approaches for STEM undergraduates to identify neuronally expressed genes. We provide a helpful protocol for physiologists who want to implement molecular and genetic methods in ...
    Posted Feb 16, 2021, 3:55 PM by Wolfgang Stein
  • Finding the solution: Animal physiology lab makes most of hybrid format In a lab designed to illustrate how living organisms operate, it only makes sense there’d be an entire week dedicated to respiration systems. In previous Biological Sciences (BSC) 283 ...
    Posted Feb 16, 2021, 3:48 PM by Wolfgang Stein
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