Melina E Hale

Research Summary
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.
  • Duke University, Durham, NC, BS Zoology 06/1992
  • The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, PhD Biomechanics 06/1998
  • SUNY, Stony Brook, NY, Postdoc Neurobiology 06/2001
  • Grass Laboratory, Marine Biological Laboratory , Woods Hole, MA, Fellow Neurobiology 08/2000
Biosciences Graduate Program Association
Awards & Honors
  • 1992 - 1993 Graduate Student Fellowship University of Chicago
  • 1992 - 1998 Dean's Merit Fellowship The University of Chicago
  • 1993 - 1998 Predoctoral Fellowship Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • 1994 - Booth Prize for Excellence in Teaching The University of Chicago
  • 1995 - Scholarship Bermuda Biological Station for Research
  • 1998 - National Research Service Award for Postdoctoral Research with J. R. Fetcho
  • 2000 - Grass Foundation Fellowship Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole
  • 2003 - CAREER Award National Science Foundation
  • 2006 - 2007 Defense Science Study Group Fellow Institute for Defense Analysis
  • 2008 - Keynote Speaker Stomatogastric Ganglion Meeting
  • 2009 - 2010 National Academies Education Fellow
  • 2010 - Plenary speaker International Congress on Vertebrate Morphology
  • 2011 - 2014 Member of the Board University of Chicago Press
  • 2012 - 2013 Academic Leadership Program Fellow (Center for Institutional Collaboration (Big10 plus))
  • 2012 - Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award The University of Chicago
  • 2013 - 2014 Spokesperson (elected) of the Committee of the Council, Faculty Senate The University of Chicago
  • 2013 - 2019 Chair-elect (2 years), Chair (2 years), Past-Chair (2 years) Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s Division of Comparative Biomechanics
  • 2019 - 2025 President-Elect (2 years), President (2 years), Past-President (2 years) Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
  1. 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 Jun 02. View in: PubMed

  2. Hale ME. Evolution of touch and proprioception of the limbs: Insights from fish and humans. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2021 12; 71:37-43. View in: PubMed

  3. 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. View in: PubMed

  4. 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). View in: PubMed

  5. 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. View in: PubMed

  6. 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. View in: PubMed

  7. 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). View in: PubMed

  8. 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). View in: PubMed

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

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

  11. 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. View in: PubMed

  12. 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. View in: PubMed

  13. 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. View in: PubMed

  14. 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. View in: PubMed

  15. 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). View in: PubMed

  16. 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. View in: PubMed

  17. 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. View in: PubMed

  18. 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. View in: PubMed

  19. Aiello BR, Stewart TA, Hale ME. Mechanosensation in an adipose fin. Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Mar 16; 283(1826):20152794. View in: PubMed

  20. Katz HR, Hale ME. A Large-Scale Pattern of Ontogenetic Shape Change in Ray-Finned Fishes. PLoS One. 2016; 11(3):e0150841. View in: PubMed

  21. Hardy AR, Steinworth BM, Hale ME. Touch sensation by pectoral fins of the catfish Pimelodus pictus. Proc Biol Sci. 2016 Feb 10; 283(1824). View in: PubMed

  22. 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. View in: PubMed

  23. Hale ME. Mapping circuits beyond the models: integrating connectomics and comparative neuroscience. Neuron. 2014 Sep 17; 83(6):1256-8. View in: PubMed

  24. 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. View in: PubMed

  25. 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. View in: PubMed

  26. 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. View in: PubMed

  27. Striedter GF, Belgard TG, Chen CC, Davis FP, Finlay BL, Güntürkün O, 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, Stüttgen MC, Tsumoto T, Wilczynski W. NSF workshop report: discovering general principles of nervous system organization by comparing brain maps across species. Brain Behav Evol. 2014; 83(1):1-8. View in: PubMed

  28. Striedter GF, Belgard TG, Chen CC, Davis FP, Finlay BL, Güntürkün O, 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, Stüttgen MC, Tsumoto T, Wilczynski W. 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. View in: PubMed

  29. Liu YC, Hale ME. Alternative forms of axial startle behaviors in fishes. Zoology (Jena). 2014 Feb; 117(1):36-47. View in: PubMed

  30. Williams R, Neubarth N, Hale ME. The function of fin rays as proprioceptive sensors in fish. Nat Commun. 2013; 4:1729. View in: PubMed

  31. 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. View in: PubMed

  32. 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. View in: PubMed

  33. 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. View in: PubMed

  34. 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. View in: PubMed

  35. 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. View in: PubMed

  36. 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. View in: PubMed

  37. 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. View in: PubMed

  38. 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. View in: PubMed

  39. 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. View in: PubMed

  40. Bierman HS, Zottoli SJ, Hale ME. Evolution of the Mauthner axon cap. Brain Behav Evol. 2009; 73(3):174-87. View in: PubMed

  41. Margoliash D, Hale ME. Neuroscience. Vertebrate vocalizations. Science. 2008 Jul 18; 321(5887):347-8. View in: PubMed

  42. Thorsen DH, Hale ME. Neural development of the zebrafish (Danio rerio) pectoral fin. J Comp Neurol. 2007 Sep 10; 504(2):168-84. View in: PubMed

  43. 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. View in: PubMed

  44. 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. View in: PubMed

  45. 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. View in: PubMed

  46. 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. View in: PubMed

  47. Hurley I, Hale ME, Prince VE. Duplication events and the evolution of segmental identity. Evol Dev. 2005 Nov-Dec; 7(6):556-67. View in: PubMed

  48. Thorsen DH, Hale ME. Development of zebrafish (Danio rerio) pectoral fin musculature. J Morphol. 2005 Nov; 266(2):241-55. View in: PubMed

  49. 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. View in: PubMed

  50. 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. View in: PubMed

  51. 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. View in: PubMed

  52. 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. View in: PubMed

  53. 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. View in: PubMed

  54. 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. View in: PubMed

  55. 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. View in: PubMed

  56. 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. View in: PubMed

  57. Hale, M. E. . 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.::::