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Mike Bowers

Assistant Professor
  • B.S. in Psychology and Biology, Oklahoma State University
  • M.S. in Linguistics, University of New Mexico
  • Ph.D. in Psychology, Oklahoma State University
Integrated Life Sciences Building, Room 2020
and Room 2051 (Lab)
1981 Kraft Drive
Blacksburg, VA 24061

The fundamental theme motivating my academic career has been language and neurodevelopmental disorders.  As a PhD student at Oklahoma State University, I studied hemispheric processing for language and bilingualism. For my postdoctoral training I switched from human based research to using animal models.  As a postdoctoral fellow, I made a novel discovery of a sex difference in the expression of a gene known to be directly involved in language and brain development, FOXP2. I found this sex difference to be present in both humans and in rats. In addition to my research, I have over ten years of teaching experience in the classroom with students ranging from high school to the graduate student level. 

As a new member of the Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience, my laboratory will focus on understanding two fundamental questions: 1) how genes and sex hormones contribute to the development of the neural circuits responsible for higher cognitive functions such as language, and 2) what drives the sex difference in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism?  In order to address these questions, the laboratory will employ several techniques including rodent behavioral assays, cell culturing, and molecular biology. My teaching and mentoring goals are designed towards the development of a learning environment that fosters and inspires the future generation of scientists.

Bowers laboratory: Neurobiology of language and Cognition

Language is the most quintessential of human characteristics.  Both language and cognition are closely interconnected.  In most cases, deficits in language result in impairments with cognitive functioning.  Our laboratory is interested to know how the brain generates, perceives, and learns language. To accomplish this goal, we use an integrative approach that combines animal behavior testing, in vitro cell culture, and molecular biological techniques. Our principal animal model used is the rat.  We use the rat because they have a multifaceted behavioral repertoire, which includes complex non-vocal social behaviors as well as a diversified use of their vocalizations within these social contexts.  The overall objective of our research is to develop a greater understanding of the neural mechanisms involved in vocal production and comprehension as well as the basic mechanisms of brain functioning.  Our specific projects include the following:

The genetics of language and brain development:  We are interested in identifying behaviorally regulated genes in the vocal nuclei of the rat brain. We focus on vocal production and comprehension of rats during the context of social interaction. We are identifying genes active in the rat brain using several cutting edge techniques (e.g., in utero electroporation, CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, RNA seq, and ChIP-seq). Combining these platforms will provide us with increased knowledge for the molecular basis of vocal communication.

Sex difference in neurodevelopment and neurodevelopmental disorders: An individual’s gender is a major predictive factor of the relative risk to develop specific neurologic or mental health disorders. The incidence of autism, stuttering, Tourettes and early on-set schizophrenia are all significantly greater in males. We are interested in understanding the basic mechanisms establishing sex differences in the brain.  Using rodent models and sex specific human neural progenitor cells, we investigate how brain development is effected by sex hormones and the gene Foxp2, which is a gene known to be highly involved in brain development and language.

Development of a rat model for vocal communication: Rodents communicate through the use of ultrasonic vocalizations.  Furthermore, rats have the potential to be excellent models for investigating language production deficits (e.g., stuttering) because they display an expanded range in both their vocal behavior and also in their social behavior. Moreover, it is important for any proposed animal model investigating disorders involving language and communication be able to recapitulate the basic fundamental core features of the disorder.  In order to accomplish our goal, we collect both video and audio recording of rat behavior. We then apply advanced statistical modeling in order to discern predictive patterns in both vocal and non-vocal behavior. We also employ neural tract tracing and viral vectors in order to elucidate the neural circuits responsible for vocal communication.

Peer-reviewed Publications

  • Bowers, J.M., Perez-Pouchoulen, M., Roby, Clinton, Ryan, Timothy, E., & McCarthy, M. M. (2014). Androgen modulation of Foxp1 and Foxp2 in the developing rat brain: Impact on sex specific vocalization. Endocrinology, 155(12):4881-94. PMID: 25247470
  • Bowers, J.M., Perez-Pouchoulen, M. R., Edwards, N.S., & McCarthy, M. M. (2013). Foxp2 mediates sex differences in ultrasonic vocalization by rat pups and directs order of maternal retrieval. J Neurosci, 3276- 3283. PMID: 23426656
  • Bowers, J. M., Bradley, K. I., & Kennison, S. M. (2013). Hemispheric differences in the processing of words learned early versus later in childhood. The Journal of General Psychology, 140(3), 174-186. PMID: 24837653
  • Waddell J, Bowers J.M, Edwards N.S, Jordan C.L, McCarthy M.M (2013). Dysregulation of neonatal hippocampal cell genesis in the androgen insensitive Tfm rat. Hormones and Behavior, PMID: 23747829  
  • Kennison SM, Fernandez EC, Bowers J.M. (2013). The Roles of semantic and phonological information in word production: Evidence from Spanish-English bilingual. J Psycholinguist Res. PMID: 23479316
  • Bowers, J.M., and Konopka, G. (2012). The role of FOXP family of transcription factors in ASD. Disease Markers. PMID: 22960337
  • Bowers, J.M. & Konopka, G. (2012). ASD animal models of the Foxp family of transcription factors. Autism Open Access Review, 251-260. PMID: 24358452
  • Bowers, J. M., & Kennison, S. M. (2011). The role of age of acquisition in bilingual word translation. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research. 40(4), 275-289 PMID: 21687967
  • Kennison, S. M., & Bowers, J. M. (2010). Illustrating brain lateralization in a naturalistic observation of cell phone use. Psychology Learning & Teaching. 10, 46-51. Weblink
  • Bowers, J.M., Waddell, J., & McCarthy, M.M. (2010). A development sex differences in hippocampal neurogenesis is mediated by endogenous oestradiol. Biology of Sex Differences, 1, 8-21. PMID: 21208470
  • Kennison, S. M., Fernandez, E. C., & Bowers, J. M. (2009). Processing differences for anaphoric and cataphoric pronouns: Implications for theories of referential processing. Discourse Processes, 46, 25-35. DOI: 10.1080/0163853080235914

For a full list of Dr. Bowers' Publications, please visit PubMed