The Bagnall Lab

The Neuronal Basis of Balance

What We Do

Awake animals normally maintain a given orientation with respect to gravity. This feature of behavior is so fundamental that it's ingrained in colloquial language: we refer to a failed business as going “belly up.” Posture is intimately dependent on signals from the inner ear, but we understand very little about how that information is mapped onto motor outputs. Our lab studies how sensory information about orientation and movement drives appropriate body movements to adjust posture.


Martha Bagnall

My Image

After undergraduate studies at Yale, Martha Bagnall joined Tom Carew's lab in UC Irvine as a technician for two years, studying sensorimotor learning. During graduate school in neuroscience at UC San Diego, she worked with Sascha du Lac at the Salk Institute. There she studied intrinsic, synaptic, and circuit function in the mouse vestibular brainstem and cerebellum. During a postdoctoral position with Massimo Scanziani, she mapped the thalamic projection to inhibitory neurons in barrel cortex. Next, with David McLean at Northwestern University, she found that the spinal circuit in zebrafish contains parallel but distinct premotor pathways for independent control of dorsal and ventral musculature.

Rich Roberts


Rich Roberts received his BA from Oberlin College and PhD from Duke University. While at Duke he worked towards understanding the genetic basis of behavior. He studied olfaction under the mentorship of Hiro Matsunami and continued this line of interest with post doctoral work in Tim Holy's lab at WashU. Wowed by the opportunities present in the righting reflex regulated by a small number of neurons in the larval zebrafish brain he moved all of two labs down the hall. He is not a huge fan of writing in the third person.

Rebecca Callahan

Rebecca comes to us via the wonderful world of photovoltaics. She kicked all sorts of "you know what" at Hendrix College and again at University of Colorado - Boulder, where she was an NSF Graduate Student Fellow under the supervision of Prof. David Walba and Dr. Garry Rumbles.

Zhikai Liu


Zhikai Liu is from Jinggang Shan in the Jiangxi province of China. He went to Tsinghua University in Beijing for undergrad where he studied the structural biology of viruses in Xiang Ye's lab. After a short summer internship in Stephen Liberles' lab at Harvard, his research interests shifted to the neuroscience underlying the question "which way is up?".

Mohini Sengupta


Mohini received her Masters in Biotechnology from St. Xaviers College, Kolkata and her PhD from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS, Bangalore). where she worked . For her graduate work she studied the intrinsic and network properties of zebrafish cerebellar Purkinje neurons with Dr. Vatsala Thirumalai. In Martha's lab she is using lasers and very small things as she works towards illuminating how spinal circuits are assembled; both in terms of specific connectivity as well as function.

The Folks We Have Been Lucky Enough To Work With

Katherine Heisey


Katherine Heisey, was an undergraduate at UIC and came to us from Argonne National Labs. She carried out early graduate work on cerebellar inputs to vestibular neurons.

Jeff Elsner

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Jeff Elsner is a San Diego native and WashU undergraduate - the type that every faculty member wishes would come into their office during recruitment interviews. He is now off to med school to make America well again.


  1. Roberts R, Elsner J, Bagnall MW. Delayed Otolith Development Does Not Impair Vestibular Circuit Formation in Zebrafish. J Assoc Res Otolaryngol. 2017 Mar 22;PubMed PMID: 28332011. PDF
  2. Kishore S, Bagnall MW, McLean DL. Systematic shifts in the balance of excitation and inhibition coordinate the activity of axial motor pools at different speeds of locomotion. J Neurosci. 2014 Oct 15;34(42):14046-54. PDF
  3. Bagnall MW, McLean DL. Modular organization of axial microcircuits in zebrafish. Science. 2014 Jan 10;343(6167):197-200. PDF
  4. Bagnall MW, McLean DL. Motor control: spinal circuits help tadpoles see clearly. Curr Biol. 2012 Sep 25;22(18):R796-7. PDF
  5. Shin M, Moghadam SH, Sekirnjak C, Bagnall MW, Kolkman KE, et al. Multiple types of cerebellar target neurons and their circuitry in the vestibulo-ocular reflex. J Neurosci. 2011 Jul 27;31(30):10776-86. PDF
  6. Bagnall MW, Hull C, Bushong EA, Ellisman MH, Scanziani M. Multiple clusters of release sites formed by individual thalamic afferents onto cortical interneurons ensure reliable transmission. Neuron. 2011 Jul 14;71(1):180-94. PDF
  7. McElvain LE, Bagnall MW, Sakatos A, du Lac S. Bidirectional plasticity gated by hyperpolarization controls the gain of postsynaptic firing responses at central vestibular nerve synapses. Neuron. 2010 Nov 18;68(4):763-75. PDF
  8. Bagnall MW, Zingg B, Sakatos A, Moghadam SH, Zeilhofer HU, et al. Glycinergic projection neurons of the cerebellum. J Neurosci. 2009 Aug 12;29(32):10104-10. PDF
  9. Bagnall MW, McElvain LE, Faulstich M, du Lac S. Frequency-independent synaptic transmission supports a linear vestibular behavior. Neuron. 2008 Oct 23;60(2):343-52. PDF
  10. Bagnall MW, Stevens RJ, du Lac S. Transgenic mouse lines subdivide medial vestibular nucleus neurons into discrete, neurochemically distinct populations. J Neurosci. 2007 Feb 28;27(9):2318-30. PDF
  11. Bagnall MW, du Lac S. A new locus for synaptic plasticity in cerebellar circuits. Neuron. 2006 Jul 6;51(1):5-7. PDF

For a complete list of publications please see Pubmed .


Say Hello.

We welcome applications from motivated, thoughtful graduate students and postdocs. Prior experience with electrophysiology, calcium imaging, behavior, or computational analysis is a plus. Please send an email detailing your research interests, with attached CV, to:

bagnall at wustl dot edu

Mailing Address:
Washington University
660 S. Euclid Ave
Campus Box 8108
Saint Louis, MO 63110

Lab: (314) 362-5053
Office: (314) 362-9695