Core Faculty: Research Opportunities
Identifying druggable targets for treating addiction
Our laboratories fundamental research objective is to identify the novel molecular changes caused by drug exposure and validate their functional role in neurological disorders. The research integrates advanced mass spectrometry platforms with a wide range of techniques including chemical biology, molecular biology, in vivo microdialysis, and behavioral pharmacology.
Gut microbiota and synaptic communication
Our research focus is to: 1) to understand the molecular mechanisms of altered synaptic communication that leads to the development of epilepsy and identify targets that may serve as therapeutic targets for treatment 2) to elucidate the mechanism that make a subset of epilepsy patients refractory to treatment (patients that cannot control their seizures with common anti-epileptic drugs) and 3) to decipher the role of the gut microbiota in seizure susceptibility in acquired and idiopathic epilepsies (epilepsies of unknown cause).
Cline and Gilbert Laboratories
Neurobiology of Appetite
Our research is aimed at developing strategies to reduce the prevalence of obesity and eating disorders. We study interactions of genetic background, diet, hormones, and neuropeptides on the regulation of appetite and adipose tissue physiology. The overarching objective is to elucidate molecular mechanisms and cellular signaling pathways associated with hypothalamic regulation of appetite and fat development, with an emphasis on the brain-fat axis in chickens.
Brain development and emotional dysfunction
Our research focusses on studying Brain Development and Risk for Emotional Dysfunction. Individual differences in human temperament and stress coping style can increase risk for psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety. Dr. Clinton’s laboratory uses rat models to study biological and environmental factors that shape the developing brain and behavior to better understand how emotional disorders may emerge and how we can possibly intervene with early preventative treatments. The laboratory uses a combination of molecular, neuroanatomical, and behavioral approaches to study molecular changes in the brain that influence emotional behavior.
Neuronal representation of space and time
Our research examines how interactions between excitatory and inhibitory neurons generate organized activity in neural circuits. In particular, we are interested in: (1) how excitatory and inhibitory neurons in the CA1 region of the hippocampus generate representations of space; (2) the synaptic and circuit mechanisms of learning-related sharp-wave ripple oscillations in hippocampus and connected cortical regions, especially the retrosplenial cortex. To address these questions we combine electrophysiology, optogenetics and 1- and 2-photon imaging, in awake behaving mice.
Cellular and molecular mechanisms of synaptogenesis
Synapses are specialized sites that allow information to be passed between neurons. Their importance is highlighted by the fact that even minor synaptic abnormalities, caused by disease or neurotrauma, result in devastating neurological and psychiatric conditions. Understanding how CNS synapses are formed is therefore essential to our understanding of these disorders. The Fox Laboratory is interested in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive the assembly, maturation and maintenance in the mammalian brain.
Drug discovery for chronic pain states
Chronic pain affects 30-40% of Americans, most of whom report that their pain is inadequately managed by current treatments. While opioids are effective for moderate to severe pain, they carry risks of addiction. Thus, our goal is to elucidate novel molecular mechanisms driving the transition from acute to chronic pain and to translate druggable targets into potential nonopioid therapeutics via a multi-omic approach using advanced mass spectrometry techniques, cell-based assays, and behavioral pharmacology to support early-stage drug discovery.
Resilience to stress and mood disorders
The goal of our lab is to identify biological mechanisms that contribute to individual differences in vulnerability and resilience to stress and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. We are working to develop novel personalized treatments and bioassays for mental illness so these disorders can be medically diagnosed and treated effectively. Our research program examines sex differences in the peripheral and central immune system and how immune mechanisms interact with brain plasticity to drive behavioral differences in response to stress.
Neural circuits of motivation and attention
Dysregulation of the neurobiological mechanisms that support fundamental functions like motivation and attention may contribute to cognitive and behavioral symptoms of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Research in the Howe lab takes a systems neuroscience approach to identify the brain-circuits that control these functions, as well as targets within these circuits that can guide the development of new therapeutics.
Molecular and cellular biology of memory formation
Our research focuses on the neurobiology of learning and memory with an emphasis on understanding the molecular and epigenetic mechanisms involved in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Additionally, we also investigate the molecular and epigenetic mechanisms involved in neurodevelopmental disorder and obesity. We address these topics using rodent behavioral paradigms in combination with a wide variety of traditional and modern molecular genetic techniques, including CRISPR-dCas9.
Neuronal circuitry of thermoregulation
Our research focuses on understanding how sensory systems regulate behavior. Our lab focusses on sensory transduction and is trying to address the following three questions: How do environmental stimuli activate the sensory receptors? How does the information from these receptors be processed in the brain? And how does the brain control behavior and physiology?
Astrocyte function in health and disease
The main interest of the Olsen lab is to better understand the role of astrocytes in normal and abnormal central nervous system function. Projects in the Olsen lab are aimed at understanding how astrocytes contribute to development and maturation of the central nervous system.
Mitochondrial dysfunction in neurodegeneration
The focus of our research is to understand how and why neurons become vulnerable during disease states. My prospective research projects will focus on: 1) to what degree mitochondrial dysfunction is tolerated by different neuron subtypes, 2) mechanisms that contribute to the accumulation of mutated mtDNA in neurons, and 3) to what extent mitochondrial function is affected by aggregates that accumulate in neurodegenerative disease, such as aIpha-synuclein.
Environmental effects on brain and behavior
The Sewall lab studies how the environment impacts the brain and behavior of songbirds. Songbirds are highly social and they learn their vocalizations, making them excellent for studying sociality, learning, and communication. Our current work focuses on how urbanization, social dynamics, and heavy metal exposure impact these complex behaviors through effects on brain growth and neuroendocrine mechanisms.
Influence of thyroid hormone on the brain
Our lab focuses on two aspects of how thyroid hormone affects tadpole brain development: 1) how do changes in thyroid hormone signaling affect neural progenitor cell proliferation, neuronal differentiation, dendritic arborization, cell death, changes in gene expression, and brain morphology? 2) How do manmade compounds suspected to disrupt thyroid hormone signaling affect brain development? We address these issues in the tadpole visual system using in vivo imaging, whole-mount immunohistochemistry, QPCR, Western blot, and 3D reconstruction.
Neural dynamics and neural engineering
Our laboratory investigates the neural dynamics underlying sleep-mediated memory consolidation in health and disease (e.g., Parkinson’s Disease and posttraumatic stress disorder), with additional projects on sensory processing, sleep processes, brain machine interfaces (BMI), and mental imagery. We employ both invasive (intracranial) and non-invasive (EEG) techniques to examine neural activity and signal processing and computational modeling techniques to make sense of the data we collect.
Weston Laboratory (Coming in August 2022)
Physiological underpinnings of neurodevelopmental disorders
Physiological underpinnings of neurodevelopmental disorders.
Our research program aims to understand how genetic variants that cause epilepsy, and other neurological diseases, impact synaptic function and intrinsic excitability, and how these neuronal changes lead to aberrant network activity and seizures. Our guiding hypothesis is that changes in synaptic and membrane function are key events in the pathway that leads from a genetic abnormality to disease phenotypes and that identifying these changes and their impact on neural circuit function are essential for a basic understanding of normal and pathological brain function. To achieve this, our lab interrogates functional alterations in genetic mouse models of epilepsy using imaging and electrophysiology techniques, both in vitro and in awake, behaving mice.