Behavioral

Michael Baum, Ph.D. (Professor, Department of Biology (CRC)) focuses on the mechanisms controlling the sexual differentiation and adult display of courtship behaviors in mice.  One project uses transgenic mice in which the /Cyp-19 /(aromatase) gene has been disabled to study the role of the sex hormone, estradiol, in the differentiation of female-typical aspects of courtship behavior, including olfactory responses to conspecifics. Another project concerns the interaction between the main and accessory olfactory nervous systems in the control of mate recognition and sexual motivation in male and female mice.  Techniques that used include brain immunocytochemistry to localize neuronal immediate-early gene products, steroid hormone receptors and several neuropeptides; in situ hybridization autoradiography to localize and quantify mRNAs for pheromone receptors in the vomeronasal organ; the quantitative analysis of sexual, scent marking, and olfactory behaviors as well as operant methods for assessing animals’ ability to detect pheromones as well as their sexual partner preferences; and brain infusions of neurotoxins, tract tracers and neuropeptides to study the olfactory mechanisms controlling sociosexual behaviors.

Dominic A. Ciraulo, M.D. (Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry (BUMC)). Dr. Ciraulo’s research interests focus on addiction psychopharmacology. He is the Principal Investigator of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and The BUMC Medication Development for Stimulants Center, and the Principal Investigator on grants from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that study the role of medications and psychosocial therapies in the treatment of alcoholism. His research also examines the relationship between animal and human models for screening of medications to treat addiction. The medication development program incorporates the latest neuroimaging technologies in collaboration with the Brain Imaging Center at Boston University School of Medicine.

James Cherry, Ph.D. (Professor, Department of Psychology (CRC)) uses mouse models to understand the relationship between brain and behavior. The laboratory uses neuroanatomical, behavioral and electrophysiological techniques to characterize functional differences in the neural circuitry that processes socially relevant odors (pheromones), with the goal of defining the specific roles of the main and accessory olfactory pathways in pheromone detection. A second research area examines the role of type 4 phosphodiesterases in mechanisms underlying drug addiction and memory.

Pietro Cottone, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics) is co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders. The research focus of the laboratory is the neurobiological substrates of motivated behaviors including feeding and addiction with the major goal of identifying the biological bases of and potential treatments for obesity and eating disorders. Current studies concern the role of stress in compulsive eating and palatable food dependence. Areas of focused research include the investigation of the neurobiological bases of stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression. Dr. Cottone’s studies are carried out using environmental and genetic animal models, with behavioral, biochemical, and molecular approaches.

Howard Eichenbaum, Ph.D. (Professor and Director of the BU Center for Neuroscience, Department of Psychology and Pharmacology (CRC/BUMC)) The hippocampus plays a critical role in memory formation, but our understanding of just what the hippocampus does and how it performs its functions are still issues of considerable controversy. To enhance our knowledge about hippocampal function, the laboratory is pursuing a combination of neuropsychological studies of the nature of memory loss in animals with damage to the hippocampus and related cortical areas, and we are pursuing electrophysiological recording studies that seek to determine how information is represented by the hippocampus and associated cortical areas.

David H. Farb, Ph.D. (Professor and Chair, Member of the Executive Committee of the BU Center for Neuroscience, Department of Pharmacology (BUMC)) focuses on the identification of pharmacological treatments for mental disorders of learning and memory.  His research integrates existing electrophysiological, behavioral, pharmacological, and molecular genetic technologies in a novel systems-level platform for assessing the impact of cognitive enhancers upon fundamental hippocampal systems for pattern separation (encoding), and pattern completion (retrieval) that are believed to be essential for cognition in all mammals, including man. Deficits in aspects of episodic memory dependent on hippocampal function are evident in a variety of mental disorders that have a huge social impact, including schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s Disease, and normal aging. Existing pharmacotherapies for many such conditions are limited and carry substantial risk of adverse effects. High-density electrophysiological recordings in awake behaving rats are being used to identify deficits in hippocampal function that underlie cognitive deficits exhibited by aged animals and animals reared in social isolation, the latter being a model for environmental stress during development. A multidisciplinary approach that includes the techniques of neurophysiology, molecular biology, patch-clamp electrophysiology, cell biology, and molecular neuroanatomy are combined to elucidate the mechanisms and modalities of cognitive enhancers and the discovery of therapeutic treatments for disorders or diseases of the nervous system.

Timothy Gardner, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Department of Biology (CRC)) studies how neural circuits form in the development of animal behavior. We focus on vocal learning in songbirds — a subject that lends itself to quantitative approaches.  How do songbirds memorize the songs of other birds, and how do these memories influence their own vocal learning? Many songbirds sing fairly normally when reared in isolation, but in the right circumstances, they may also imitate external models. Song learning is therefore the result of innate programming that provides a basic outline for song, and an auditory-memory based learning that builds on the innate program. The laboratory is currently investigating the process that builds and maintains the core sequence of the song behavior.  What growth mechanisms form the core structure of song and what are the geometric properties of the resulting circuit? What features of the circuit govern the flexible ordering of song? What homeostatic mechanisms maintain the circuit, and what is the role of spontaneous neural activity in sleep? For genetically identical birds, how would song learning differ? The lab is addressing one or more of these questions through tools including quantitative behavioral experiments and inbreeding, in-vivo imaging, electrophysiology and functional perturbation of neural activity.

Frank Guenther, Ph.D. (Professor, Associate Director GPN, member of GPN GEC, Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems (CRC)) combines theoretical modeling with behavioral and neuroimaging experiments to characterize the neural computations underlying speech and language. He is also involved in the development of speech prostheses that utilize brain-computer interfaces to restore synthetic speech to paralyzed individuals.

Kathleen Kantak, Ph.D. (Professor, Member of the GPN GEC, Department of Psychology (CRC)) uses animal models to conduct translational research related to drug addiction, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and their co-morbidity. Using intravenous drug self-administration procedures in rats, they investigate how multiple memory systems regulate drug-seeking and drug-taking behavior as well as how drug exposure influences the neurocognitive functioning of multiple memory systems. In addition, they investigate how cognitive-enhancing therapeutics may be useful to facilitate extinction learning for drug-conditioned cues and attenuate drug relapse. Other studies focus on evaluating the frontostriatal and medial temporal lobe neurocognitive deficits in rats with an ADHD phenotype and their response to medications as well as comorbidity between ADHD and vulnerability to drug addiction. In the context of all this research, Kantak collaborates with other investigators to conduct image analysis or to understand the neurochemical and molecular correlates of these disorders and their treatment.

Gary Kaplan, M.D. (Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Pharmacology (BUMC)) Addiction can be conceptualized as a progressive phenomenon initiated and maintained by the conditioned rewarding effects of drugs of abuse. As a result of neural plasticity in motivational and cognitive circuits, exposure to drug cues previously can evoke drug craving and seeking responses and that can reinstate drug taking. Our research examines the effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid- (GABA) type B and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor receptor agents on the acquisition and expression of opiate and cocaine reward, self-administration, their extinction, and reacquisition. Such research defines the mechanisms related to drug relapse and defines novel therapeutic targets of interest for clinical studies. We utilize state-of-the-art methods in behavioral neuroscience, neuroanatomy, and neurochemistry to study these signaling pathways and circuitry in addiction.

Conan Kornetsky, Ph.D. (Professor, Departments of Psychiatry and Pharmacology (BUMC)) Dr. Kornetsky is internationally recognized as one of the early pioneers in the field of drug abuse.  He has carried out experiments on the role of the brain reward system in the reinforcing effects of abused substances, including alcohol, opioids and psychostimulants. Currently, his laboratory is pursuing research on the interaction of the brain reward and pain systems.

Mark Moss, Ph.D. (Professor and Chairman, Member of the Executive Committee of the BU Center for Neuroscience, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology (BUMC)) studies the neurobiological basis of successful and unsuccessful aging, with particular respect to memory and executive functions.  Specific interests include (1) the interaction of the prefrontal cortices with the medial temporal lobe limbic system in cognition; (2) the separate and combined effects of age and hypertension on cognition and integrity of the blood-brain barrier in a non-human primate model of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease and (3) parallel studies in normal aged humans and patients with MCI and Alzheimer’s disease. Techniques include automated behavioral assessment, functional and structural MR imaging, and an array of immunocytochemical and related anatomical-morphological techniques.

Marlene Oscar-Berman, Ph.D. (Professor, Member of the GPN GEC, Departments of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Psychiatry, and Neurology (BUMC)) research explores the brain and behavioral consequences of human neurological disorders.  Her recent publications are on the cognitive and emotional changes that result from chronic alcoholism, as well as on brain structural changes that are apparent in regions involved in cognitive and emotional functioning. Dr. Berman also has studied the behavioral consequences of brain damage in patients with other disorders of the central nervous system.  Additionally, her work on brain asymmetries addresses questions concerning the different roles of the two cerebral hemispheres in processing, understanding, and responding to visual information having emotional and non-emotional content.  Dr. Berman is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Fulbright award and a Senior Scientist and Mentorship award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the National Institutes of Health.

Douglas Rosene, Ph.D. (Professor, Member of the GPN GEC, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology (BUMC)) The research of Dr. Rosene focuses on identifying the neurobiological basis of learning and memory and related higher cognitive functions in the normal brain and the basis of disruption of these processes in various neurodegenerative diseases and forms of neurological damage. The laboratory employs multidisciplinary methods to investigate these issues in the rhesus monkey model of cognitive function. Methods include combinations of behavioral, neurohistochemical, neurophysiological, neuroanatomical, neurosurgical, and MRI techniques. Investigations supported by the Program Project that he directs, seeks to identify the neurobiological basis of age-related impairments in learning, memory and executive function in the rhesus monkey model of normal aging. Results of these investigations have demonstrated that cortical neurons are not lost in normal aging as conventional wisdom held but instead the main changes are in the subcortical white matter of the forebrain. Parallel studies are focused on neurodegenerative disease, cerebrovascular disease and traumatic brain injury, and in collaboration with Dr. H. Eugene Stanley in the Physics Dept at BU the development of novel ways to quantify the microcolumnar structure of cerebral cortex using methods from statistical physics.

Valentina Sabino, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics) is co-director of the Laboratory of Addictive Disorders. Dr. Sabino is currently researching the neurobiology of addiction and stress-related disorders.  Studies on addiction aim to understand the neurobiological substrates of alcohol abuse and dependence, by exploring the role of central neurochemical systems in excessive alcohol drinking. She is working toward the development of new therapeutic agents to alleviate alcohol addiction.  Animal models for excessive drinking are studied in order to identify compounds for potential clinical development.  Research is also conducted on the neurobiology of stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression. The laboratory uses environmental and genetic animal models of disease, with a multidisciplinary approach to understand the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders and to develop novel therapies.

Chantal Stern, Ph.D. (Professor, Department of Psychology (CRC)) is a core faculty member of the Conte Center for Memory and Brain, a member of the NSF CELEST Science of Learning Center, and a faculty member at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She also serves as an internal advisory board member for the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center.  Her students are trained in basic fMRI research methodology, and in addition are trained either to link their fMRI work to animal and computational models (integration with Hasselmo and Eichenbaum labs) or to link their studies with clinical population studies (Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, HIV dementia, eating disorders). Chantal Stern has been instrumental in providing fMRI training to postdocs and graduate students that were initially trained in other research methodologies, including students and postdocs initially trained in ERP methods; optical animal imaging methods, animal lesion and electrophysiological methods, clinical neuropsychology methods, and structural and morphometric imaging method.

Helen Tager-Flusberg, Ph.D. (Professor, Departments of Psychology (CRC) & Anatomy and Neurobiology (BUMC)) is the Director of the Lab of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston University/BU School of Medicine.  For the past three decades she has investigated the cognitive architecture that characterizes children with different neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders, Williams syndrome, specific language impairment and other genetically-based disorders, with a particular focus on language and social cognition.  Her work emphasizes the integral connection between typical and atypical development exploring how data from children with neurodevelopmental disorders may illuminate theoretical issues of normal development.