Melina E Hale, PhD

My research integrates biomechanics and neurobiology to study how axial movements are generated and coordinated to respond to the physical properties of an organism's environment. Of particular interest to me are the startle response and rhythmic swimming behaviors of fishes. These behaviors provide excellent model systems for examining motor control and the mechanics of axial movement. Because the startle response involves a discrete behavior, large neurons and simple neural circuits, it has been important in studies of motor control. Because it is critical for survival and involves maximal performance, it has been important for work on muscle physiology and performance. Rhythmic axial and fin swimming has long been studied in lampreys and tadpoles to examine central pattern generation in spinal circuits and in a wide diversity fishes to understand the relationship between morphology and movement.



The scope of questions I am asking can be divided into three interconnected research initiatives. The first explores the broad question: How do morphology, physiology and the physics of the aquatic environment interact to produce swimming movement? To address this question, I examine the scaling of locomotor performance through development with changes in the physics of movement such as the Reynolds number, a ratio of inertial to viscous forces. The second area examines the generation of swimming movements. Questions I am addressing include: How do reticulospinal and spinal neurons and circuits generate startle behavior? And, how are gate transitions due to the physics of movement mediated neurally? To address these questions I examine reticulospinal and spinal interneuron morphology and function in zebrafish and examine comparatively species that differ in components of their startle neural circuits. A third area of research examines the evolution of neural circuits and behaviors. Through this work I am addressing the general question: How are neural circuits and behaviors modified evolutionarily? I examine the startle neural circuit in fishes comparatively within a phylogenetic context. In addition, mutant and transgenic zebrafish are providing new ways of addressing evolutionary questions such as this.



My approaches to these questions include using zebrafish as a model as well as comparative work on actinopterygian fishes. Larval zebrafish, in addition to being an excellent genetic system, are transparent which makes optical imaging of neuron morphology and activity as well as targeted neuron ablations possible in whole, in vivo preparations. With these techniques, we are able to combine functional imaging studies of neurons with behavior. In order to look simultaneously at neuron activity and fish movement, we label cells with calcium sensitive dyes and simultaneously image neurons firing with confocal microscopy and axial movements with high-speed video. With a complementary set of techniques, we kill neurons with cell targeted laser ablations and can compare behavior before and after the cells are removed. Because with such ablations we are able to very specifically remove cells without collateral damage, these techniques allow fine manipulation of the system.

SUNY
Stony Brook, NY
Postdoc - Neurobiology
2001

Grass Laboratory, Marine Biological Laboratory
Woods Hole, MA
Fellow - Neurobiology
2000

The University of Chicago
Chicago, IL
PhD - Biomechanics
1998

Duke University
Durham, NC
BS - Zoology
1992

Sensing the structural characteristics of surfaces: texture encoding by a bottom-dwelling fish.
Hardy AR, Hale ME. Sensing the structural characteristics of surfaces: texture encoding by a bottom-dwelling fish. J Exp Biol. 2020 Nov 03; 223(Pt 21).
PMID: 33144404

Hindbrain and Spinal Cord Contributions to the Cutaneous Sensory Innervation of the Larval Zebrafish Pectoral Fin.
Henderson KW, Roche A, Menelaou E, Hale ME. Hindbrain and Spinal Cord Contributions to the Cutaneous Sensory Innervation of the Larval Zebrafish Pectoral Fin. Front Neuroanat. 2020; 14:581821.
PMID: 33192344

Morphological and physiological properties of Rohon-Beard neurons along the zebrafish spinal cord.
Katz HR, Menelaou E, Hale ME. Morphological and physiological properties of Rohon-Beard neurons along the zebrafish spinal cord. J Comp Neurol. 2020 Sep 16.
PMID: 32935362

DNA-based fluorescent probes of NOS2 activity in live brains.
Veetil AT, Zou J, Henderson KW, Jani MS, Shaik SM, Sisodia SS, Hale ME, Krishnan Y. DNA-based fluorescent probes of NOS2 activity in live brains. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 06 30; 117(26):14694-14702.
PMID: 32554491

Pectoral fin kinematics and motor patterns are shaped by fin ray mechanosensation during steady swimming in Scarus quoyi.
Aiello BR, Olsen AM, Mathis CE, Westneat MW, Hale ME. Pectoral fin kinematics and motor patterns are shaped by fin ray mechanosensation during steady swimming in Scarus quoyi. J Exp Biol. 2020 01 23; 223(Pt 2).
PMID: 31862848

Pectoral fin kinematics and motor patterns are shaped by fin ray mechanosensation during steady swimming in Scarus quoyi.
Aiello BR, Olsen AM, Mathis CE, Westneat MW, Hale ME. Pectoral fin kinematics and motor patterns are shaped by fin ray mechanosensation during steady swimming in Scarus quoyi. J Exp Biol. 2019 Dec 20.
PMID: 31862848

Escape responses of fish: a review of the diversity in motor control, kinematics and behaviour.
Domenici P, Hale ME. Escape responses of fish: a review of the diversity in motor control, kinematics and behaviour. J Exp Biol. 2019 09 18; 222(Pt 18).
PMID: 31534015

Toward Diversification of Species Models in Neuroscience.
Hale ME. Toward Diversification of Species Models in Neuroscience. Brain Behav Evol. 2019; 93(2-3):166-168.
PMID: 31416090

Comparative Principles for Next-Generation Neuroscience.
Miller CT, Hale ME, Okano H, Okabe S, Mitra P. Comparative Principles for Next-Generation Neuroscience. Front Behav Neurosci. 2019; 13:12.
PMID: 30787871

Adipose fin development and its relation to the evolutionary origins of median fins.
Stewart TA, Bonilla MM, Ho RK, Hale ME. Adipose fin development and its relation to the evolutionary origins of median fins. Sci Rep. 2019 01 24; 9(1):512.
PMID: 30679662

View All Publications

President-Elect (2 years), President (2 years), Past-President (2 years)
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
2019 - 2025

Spokesperson (elected) of the Committee of the Council, Faculty Senate
The University of Chicago
2013 - 2014

Chair-elect (2 years), Chair (2 years), Past-Chair (2 years)
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s Division of Comparative Biomechanics
2013 - 2019

Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award
The University of Chicago
2012

Academic Leadership Program Fellow
(Center for Institutional Collaboration (Big10 plus))
2012 - 2013

Member of the Board
University of Chicago Press
2011 - 2014

Plenary speaker
International Congress on Vertebrate Morphology
2010

National Academies Education Fellow
2009 - 2010

Keynote Speaker
Stomatogastric Ganglion Meeting
2008

Defense Science Study Group Fellow
Institute for Defense Analysis
2006 - 2007

CAREER Award
National Science Foundation
2003

Grass Foundation Fellowship
Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole
2000

National Research Service Award for Postdoctoral Research with J. R. Fetcho
1998

Scholarship
Bermuda Biological Station for Research
1995

Booth Prize for Excellence in Teaching
The University of Chicago
1994

Predoctoral Fellowship
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
1993 - 1998

Graduate Student Fellowship
University of Chicago
1992 - 1993

Dean's Merit Fellowship
The University of Chicago
1992 - 1998