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Melina E Hale

InstitutionUniversity of Chicago
DepartmentOrganismal Biology and Anatomy
AddressChicago IL 60637
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    Collapse Overview 
    Collapse overview
    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.

    Collapse Biography 
    Collapse education and training
    Duke University, Durham, NCBS06/1992Zoology
    The University of Chicago, Chicago, ILPhD06/1998Biomechanics
    SUNY, Stony Brook, NYPostdoc06/2001Neurobiology
    Grass Laboratory, Marine Biological Laboratory , Woods Hole, MAFellow08/2000Neurobiology
    Collapse awards and honors
    1992 - 1993Graduate Student Fellowship, University of Chicago
    1992 - 1998Dean's Merit Fellowship, The University of Chicago
    1993 - 1998Predoctoral Fellowship, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
    1994Booth Prize for Excellence in Teaching, The University of Chicago
    1995Scholarship, Bermuda Biological Station for Research
    1998National Research Service Award for Postdoctoral Research with J. R. Fetcho
    2000Grass Foundation Fellowship, Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole
    2003CAREER Award, National Science Foundation
    2006 - 2007Defense Science Study Group Fellow, Institute for Defense Analysis
    2008Keynote Speaker, Stomatogastric Ganglion Meeting
    2009 - 2010National Academies Education Fellow
    2010Plenary speaker, International Congress on Vertebrate Morphology
    2011 - 2014Member of the Board, University of Chicago Press
    2012Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award, The University of Chicago
    2012 - 2013Academic Leadership Program Fellow , (Center for Institutional Collaboration (Big10 plus))
    2013 - 2014Spokesperson (elected) of the Committee of the Council, Faculty Senate, The University of Chicago
    2013 - 2019Chair-elect (2 years), Chair (2 years), Past-Chair (2 years), Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s Division of Comparative Biomechanics
    2019 - 2025President-Elect (2 years), President (2 years), Past-President (2 years) , Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology

    Collapse Bibliographic 
    Collapse selected publications
    Publications listed below are automatically derived from MEDLINE/PubMed and other sources, which might result in incorrect or missing publications. Faculty can login to make corrections and additions.
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    PMC Citations indicate the number of times the publication was cited by articles in PubMed Central, and the Altmetric score represents citations in news articles and social media. (Note that publications are often cited in additional ways that are not shown here.) Fields are based on how the National Library of Medicine (NLM) classifies the publication's journal and might not represent the specific topic of the publication. Translation tags are based on the publication type and the MeSH terms NLM assigns to the publication. Some publications (especially newer ones and publications not in PubMed) might not yet be assigned Field or Translation tags.) Click a Field or Translation tag to filter the publications.
    1. Chang W, Hale ME. Mechanosensory signal transmission in the arms and the nerve ring, an interarm connective, of Octopus bimaculoides. iScience. 2023 May 19; 26(5):106722. PMID: 37216097; PMCID: PMC10192654.
    2. Kuuspalu A, Cody S, Hale ME. Multiple nerve cords connect the arms of octopuses, providing alternative paths for inter-arm signaling. Curr Biol. 2022 Nov 20. PMID: 36446353.
      Citations: 2     Fields:    
    3. Hale ME, Galdston S, Arnold BW, Song C. The Water to Land Transition Submerged: Multifunctional Design of Pectoral Fins for Use in Swimming and in Association with Underwater Substrate. Integr Comp Biol. 2022 10 29; 62(4):908-921. PMID: 35652788; PMCID: PMC9617210.
      Citations: 1     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    4. Hardy AR, Hale ME. Extraoral Taste Buds on the Paired Fins of Damselfishes. Integr Org Biol. 2022; 4(1):obac035. PMID: 36060866; PMCID: PMC9428928.
    5. Hale ME. Evolution of touch and proprioception of the limbs: Insights from fish and humans. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2021 12; 71:37-43. PMID: 34562801.
      Citations: 3     Fields:    Translation:HumansAnimals
    6. Hardy AR, Hale ME. Sensing the structural characteristics of surfaces: texture encoding by a bottom-dwelling fish. J Exp Biol. 2020 11 03; 223(Pt 21). PMID: 33144404.
      Citations: 3     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    7. 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; PMCID: PMC7607007.
      Citations: 1     
    8. Katz HR, Menelaou E, Hale ME. Morphological and physiological properties of Rohon-Beard neurons along the zebrafish spinal cord. J Comp Neurol. 2021 05 01; 529(7):1499-1515. PMID: 32935362.
      Citations: 5     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    9. 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; PMCID: PMC7334527.
      Citations: 13     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    10. 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.
      Citations: 4     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    11. Hale ME, Domenici P. 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.
      Citations: 19     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    12. Hale ME. Toward Diversification of Species Models in Neuroscience. Brain Behav Evol. 2019; 93(2-3):166-168. PMID: 31416090.
      Citations: 4     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    13. Miller CT, Hale ME, Okano H, Okabe S, Mitra P. Comparative Principles for Next-Generation Neuroscience. Front Behav Neurosci. 2019; 13:12. PMID: 30787871; PMCID: PMC6373779.
      Citations: 10     
    14. 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; PMCID: PMC6346007.
      Citations: 4     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    15. Aiello BR, Hardy AR, Westneat MW, Hale ME. Fins as Mechanosensors for Movement and Touch-Related Behaviors. Integr Comp Biol. 2018 11 01; 58(5):844-859. PMID: 29917043.
      Citations: 6     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    16. Hale ME. Making sense of sparse data with neural encoding strategies. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Oct 16; 115(42):10545-10547. PMID: 30279175; PMCID: PMC6196484.
      Citations:    Fields:    Translation:Cells
    17. Aiello BR, Hardy AR, Cherian C, Olsen AM, Orsbon CP, Hale ME, Westneat MW. A comparison of pectoral fin ray morphology and its impact on fin ray flexural stiffness in labriform swimmers. J Morphol. 2018 08; 279(8):1031-1044. PMID: 29693259.
      Citations: 3     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    18. Aiello BR, Hardy AR, Cherian C, Olsen AM, Ahn SE, Hale ME, Westneat MW. The relationship between pectoral fin ray stiffness and swimming behavior in Labridae: insights into design, performance and ecology. J Exp Biol. 2018 01 09; 221(Pt 1). PMID: 29162638.
      Citations: 2     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    19. Aiello BR, Westneat MW, Hale ME. Mechanosensation is evolutionarily tuned to locomotor mechanics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Apr 25; 114(17):4459-4464. PMID: 28396411; PMCID: PMC5410822.
      Citations: 16     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    20. Liu YC, Hale ME. Local Spinal Cord Circuits and Bilateral Mauthner Cell Activity Function Together to Drive Alternative Startle Behaviors. Curr Biol. 2017 Mar 06; 27(5):697-704. PMID: 28216316.
      Citations: 12     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    21. Hale ME, Katz HR, Peek MY, Fremont RT. Neural circuits that drive startle behavior, with a focus on the Mauthner cells and spiral fiber neurons of fishes. J Neurogenet. 2016 06; 30(2):89-100. PMID: 27302612.
      Citations: 23     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    22. Aiello BR, Stewart TA, Hale ME. Mechanosensation in an adipose fin. Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Mar 16; 283(1826):20152794. PMID: 26984621; PMCID: PMC4810852.
      Citations: 6     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    23. Katz HR, Hale ME. A Large-Scale Pattern of Ontogenetic Shape Change in Ray-Finned Fishes. PLoS One. 2016; 11(3):e0150841. PMID: 26943126; PMCID: PMC4778928.
      Citations: 4     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    24. Hardy AR, Steinworth BM, Hale ME. Touch sensation by pectoral fins of the catfish Pimelodus pictus. Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Feb 10; 283(1824). PMID: 26865307; PMCID: PMC4760170.
      Citations: 8     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    25. Williams R, Hale ME. Fin ray sensation participates in the generation of normal fin movement in the hovering behavior of the bluegill sunfish (Lepomis macrochirus). J Exp Biol. 2015 Nov; 218(Pt 21):3435-47. PMID: 26347560.
      Citations: 9     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    26. Hale ME. Mapping circuits beyond the models: integrating connectomics and comparative neuroscience. Neuron. 2014 Sep 17; 83(6):1256-8. PMID: 25233308.
      Citations: 9     Fields:    Translation:HumansAnimals
    27. Aiello BR, King HM, Hale ME. Functional subdivision of fin protractor and retractor muscles underlies pelvic fin walking in the African lungfish Protopterus annectens. J Exp Biol. 2014 Oct 01; 217(Pt 19):3474-82. PMID: 25104761.
      Citations: 2     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    28. Striedter GF, Belgard TG, Chen CC, Davis FP, Finlay BL, Hale ME, Harris JA, Hecht EE, Hof PR, Hofmann HA, Holland LZ, Iwaniuk AN, Jarvis ED, Karten HJ, Katz PS, Kristan WB, Macagno ER, Mitra PP, Moroz LL, Preuss TM, Ragsdale CW, Sherwood CC, Stevens CF, Tsumoto T, Wilczynski W, Güntürkün O, Stüttgen MC. NSF workshop report: discovering general principles of nervous system organization by comparing brain maps across species. J Comp Neurol. 2014 May 01; 522(7):1445-53. PMID: 24596113.
      Citations: 9     Fields:    Translation:HumansAnimalsCells
    29. Hale ME. Developmental change in the function of movement systems: transition of the pectoral fins between respiratory and locomotor roles in zebrafish. Integr Comp Biol. 2014 Jul; 54(2):238-49. PMID: 24748600; PMCID: PMC4097112.
      Citations: 10     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    30. King HM, Hale ME. Musculoskeletal morphology of the pelvis and pelvic fins in the lungfish Protopterus annectens. J Morphol. 2014 Apr; 275(4):431-41. PMID: 24741713.
      Citations: 4     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    31. Striedter GF, Belgard TG, Chen CC, Davis FP, Finlay BL, Hale ME, Harris JA, Hecht EE, Hof PR, Hofmann HA, Holland LZ, Iwaniuk AN, Jarvis ED, Karten HJ, Katz PS, Kristan WB, Macagno ER, Mitra PP, Moroz LL, Preuss TM, Ragsdale CW, Sherwood CC, Stevens CF, Tsumoto T, Wilczynski W, Güntürkün O, Stüttgen MC. NSF workshop report: discovering general principles of nervous system organization by comparing brain maps across species. Brain Behav Evol. 2014; 83(1):1-8. PMID: 24603302; PMCID: PMC4028317.
      Citations: 15     Fields:    Translation:HumansAnimals
    32. . Developmental change in the function of movement systems: Transition of the pectoral fins between respiratory and locomotor roles in zebrafish. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 2014; 54:238-249.
    33. Liu YC, Hale ME. Alternative forms of axial startle behaviors in fishes. Zoology (Jena). 2014 Feb; 117(1):36-47. PMID: 24374038.
      Citations: 1     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    34. Williams R, Neubarth N, Hale ME. The function of fin rays as proprioceptive sensors in fish. Nat Commun. 2013; 4:1729. PMID: 23591896.
      Citations: 16     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    35. Green MH, Curet OM, Patankar NA, Hale ME. Fluid dynamics of the larval zebrafish pectoral fin and the role of fin bending in fluid transport. Bioinspir Biomim. 2013 Mar; 8(1):016002. PMID: 23220841.
      Citations: 6     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    36. Stewart TA, Hale ME. First description of a musculoskeletal linkage in an adipose fin: innovations for active control in a primitively passive appendage. Proc Biol Sci. 2013 Jan 07; 280(1750):20122159. PMID: 23135670; PMCID: PMC3574436.
      Citations: 5     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    37. Green MH, Hale ME. Activity of pectoral fin motoneurons during two swimming gaits in the larval zebrafish (Danio rerio) and localization of upstream circuit elements. J Neurophysiol. 2012 Dec; 108(12):3393-402. PMID: 23034362.
      Citations: 10     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    38. King HM, Shubin NH, Coates MI, Hale ME. Behavioral evidence for the evolution of walking and bounding before terrestriality in sarcopterygian fishes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Dec 27; 108(52):21146-51. PMID: 22160688; PMCID: PMC3248479.
      Citations: 25     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    39. Liu YC, Bailey I, Hale ME. Alternative startle motor patterns and behaviors in the larval zebrafish (Danio rerio). J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2012 Jan; 198(1):11-24. PMID: 21983742.
      Citations: 17     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    40. Green MH, Ho RK, Hale ME. Movement and function of the pectoral fins of the larval zebrafish (Danio rerio) during slow swimming. J Exp Biol. 2011 Sep 15; 214(Pt 18):3111-23. PMID: 21865524.
      Citations: 26     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    41. Sandulescu CM, Teow RY, Hale ME, Zhang C. Onset and dynamic expression of S100 proteins in the olfactory organ and the lateral line system in zebrafish development. Brain Res. 2011 Apr 06; 1383:120-7. PMID: 21284940.
      Citations: 5     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    42. Phelan C, Tangorra J, Lauder G, Hale M. A biorobotic model of the sunfish pectoral fin for investigations of fin sensorimotor control. Bioinspir Biomim. 2010 Sep; 5(3):035003. PMID: 20729572.
      Citations: 1     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    43. Bierman HS, Zottoli SJ, Hale ME. Evolution of the Mauthner axon cap. Brain Behav Evol. 2009; 73(3):174-87. PMID: 19494486.
      Citations: 3     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    44. Margoliash D, Hale ME. Neuroscience. Vertebrate vocalizations. Science. 2008 Jul 18; 321(5887):347-8. PMID: 18635781.
      Citations:    Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    45. Thorsen DH, Hale ME. Neural development of the zebrafish (Danio rerio) pectoral fin. J Comp Neurol. 2007 Sep 10; 504(2):168-84. PMID: 17626269.
      Citations: 27     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    46. Skromne I, Thorsen D, Hale M, Prince VE, Ho RK. Repression of the hindbrain developmental program by Cdx factors is required for the specification of the vertebrate spinal cord. Development. 2007 Jun; 134(11):2147-58. PMID: 17507415; PMCID: PMC2804982.
      Citations: 36     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    47. Nishikawa K, Biewener AA, Aerts P, Ahn AN, Chiel HJ, Daley MA, Daniel TL, Full RJ, Hale ME, Hedrick TL, Lappin AK, Nichols TR, Quinn RD, Satterlie RA, Szymik B. Neuromechanics: an integrative approach for understanding motor control. Integr Comp Biol. 2007 Jul; 47(1):16-54. PMID: 21672819.
      Citations: 82     Fields:    
    48. McLean DL, Fan J, Higashijima S, Hale ME, Fetcho JR. A topographic map of recruitment in spinal cord. Nature. 2007 Mar 01; 446(7131):71-5. PMID: 17330042.
      Citations: 168     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    49. Bhatt DH, McLean DL, Hale ME, Fetcho JR. Grading movement strength by changes in firing intensity versus recruitment of spinal interneurons. Neuron. 2007 Jan 04; 53(1):91-102. PMID: 17196533.
      Citations: 46     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    50. Hale ME, Day RD, Thorsen DH, Westneat MW. Pectoral fin coordination and gait transitions in steadily swimming juvenile reef fishes. J Exp Biol. 2006 Oct; 209(Pt 19):3708-18. PMID: 16985188.
      Citations: 7     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    51. Hurley I, Hale ME, Prince VE. Duplication events and the evolution of segmental identity. Evol Dev. 2005 Nov-Dec; 7(6):556-67. PMID: 16336409.
      Citations: 27     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    52. Thorsen DH, Hale ME. Development of zebrafish (Danio rerio) pectoral fin musculature. J Morphol. 2005 Nov; 266(2):241-55. PMID: 16163704.
      Citations: 28     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    53. Thorsen DH, Cassidy JJ, Hale ME. Swimming of larval zebrafish: fin-axis coordination and implications for function and neural control. J Exp Biol. 2004 Nov; 207(Pt 24):4175-83. PMID: 15531638.
      Citations: 31     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    54. Bierman HS, Schriefer JE, Zottoli SJ, Hale ME. The effects of head and tail stimulation on the withdrawal startle response of the rope fish (Erpetoichthys calabaricus). J Exp Biol. 2004 Oct; 207(Pt 22):3985-97. PMID: 15472029.
      Citations: 1     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    55. Hale ME, Kheirbek MA, Schriefer JE, Prince VE. Hox gene misexpression and cell-specific lesions reveal functionality of homeotically transformed neurons. J Neurosci. 2004 Mar 24; 24(12):3070-6. PMID: 15044546; PMCID: PMC6729858.
      Citations: 8     Fields:    Translation:AnimalsCells
    56. Schriefer JE, Hale ME. Strikes and startles of northern pike (Esox lucius): a comparison of muscle activity and kinematics between S-start behaviors. J Exp Biol. 2004 Jan; 207(Pt 3):535-44. PMID: 14691101.
      Citations: 6     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    57. Hale ME. S- and C-start escape responses of the muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) require alternative neuromotor mechanisms. J Exp Biol. 2002 Jul; 205(Pt 14):2005-16. PMID: 12089206.
      Citations: 10     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    58. Hale ME, Long JH, McHenry MJ, Westneat MW. Evolution of behavior and neural control of the fast-start escape response. Evolution. 2002 May; 56(5):993-1007. PMID: 12093034.
      Citations: 12     Fields:    Translation:Animals
    59. Hale ME. Locomotor mechanics during early life history: effects of size and ontogeny on fast-start performance of salmonid fishes J Exp Biol. 1999 Jun; 202 (Pt 11):1465-79. PMID: 10229693.
      Citations: 11     Fields:    
    60. Westneat MW, Hale ME, Mchenry MJ, Long JH. Mechanics of the fast-start: muscle function and the role of intramuscular pressure in the escape behavior of amia calva and polypterus palmas J Exp Biol. 1998 Nov; 201 (Pt 22):3041-55. PMID: 9787124.
      Citations: 5     Fields:    
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