Systems

Helen Barbas, Ph.D. (Professor, Department of Health Sciences, Sargent College, Professor, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology (CRC/BUSM)) focuses on the organization of the prefrontal cortex and its role in central executive functions in primates. The goal is to investigate prefrontal pathways that interface with both excitatory and inhibitory neurons in cortical and subcortical structures that may provide the basis for the selection of relevant information and suppression of irrelevant information in behavior. Research involves investigation of bidirectional pathways between prefrontal cortices and structures associated with sensory, cognitive, mnemonic and emotional processes in the cortex, the thalamus, and the amygdala.  Experimental approaches include the use of neural tracers to label pathways, combined with histochemical, immunocytochemical and molecular procedures to characterize the postsynaptic site of prefrontal pathways. We use quantitative approaches and imaging to reconstruct in 3D neural circuits at the level of systems and at the synaptic level, and employ multidimensional analyses to reveal patterns and principles of connections.

Gene Blatt, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology (BUMC)) directs the Laboratory for Autism Neuroscience Research that is focused on the neuropathological and neurochemical alterations in the brains of individuals with autism. Cerebellar, limbic and cortical regions are investigated using a variety of proven neuroanatomical and neurochemical techniques including autoradiography, in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry. Their goal is to identify and quantify core neural substrates as biomarkers for the developmental disorder in order to aid in the development of novel pharmacotherapies and to better understand current treatments within subsets of autistic individuals.

Daniel Bullock, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems (CRC)) Interests of the Bullock lab are focused on the use of integrated computational models of local circuits implicated in reinforcement learning, planning of action sequences (including speech), and motivated decision making. Current models focus on forebrain circuits within or linking: laminar frontal cortex, the striatum and other parts of the basal ganglia, and midbrain dopaminergic areas.  The long-term goal is construction of quantitative models of sufficient accuracy to predict effects of many pharmacological manipulations on decision-making, voluntary behavior, and skill learning.

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.

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.

Xue Han, Ph.D. (Assistant Professor, Departments of Biomedical Engineering, Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (CRC/BUMC)) Brain disorders represent the biggest unmet medical need, with many disorders being untreatable, and most treatments presenting serious side effects. The Han laboratory is discovering design principles for novel neuromodulation therapies. They invent and apply a variety of genetic, molecular, pharmacological, optical, and electrical tools to correct neural circuits that go awry within the brain. As an example, they have pioneered several technologies for silencing specific cells in the brain using pulses of light. They have also recently participated in the first pre-clinical testing of a novel neurotechnology, optical neural modulation. Using these novel neurotechnologies and classical ones such as deep brain stimulation (DBS), they modulate the function of neural circuits to establish causal links between neural dynamics and behavioral phenomena (e.g., movement, attention, memory, and decision making). One of their current interests is the investigation of how neural synchrony arises within and across brain regions, and how synchronous activity contributes to normal cognition and pathology.

Michael Hasselmo, Ph.D. (Professor, Department of Psychology (CRC)) Research in the Hasselmo laboratory is concerned with the cortical dynamics of memory-guided behavior, including effects of neuromodulatory receptors and the role of theta rhythm oscillations in cortical function. Neurophysiological techniques are used to analyze intrinsic and synaptic properties of cortical circuits in the rat, and to explore the effects of modulators on these properties. Computational modeling is used to link this physiological data to memory-guided behavior.  Experiments using multiple single-unit recording in behavioral tasks are designed to test predictions of the computational models. Areas of focused research include episodic memory function and theta rhythm dynamics in the entorhinal cortex, prefrontal cortex and hippocampal formation. Research addresses physiological effects relevant to Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia and depression.

Nancy Kopell, Ph.D. (Professor, Member of the GNP GEC, Department of Mathematics (CRC)) is interested in the dynamics of cortical electrical activity associated with sensory processing, cognition and motor control.  This broad area includes 1) the physiological and anatomical bases of the multiple rhythms measured in EEG, MEG and invasive paradigms; 2) the relationships between those rhythms and cognitive function; 3) how pathologies in those rhythms relate to cognitive and motor symptoms in neurological diseases.

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.

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.

Jean-Jacques R. Soghomonian, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology (BUMC)) The laboratory focuses on the functional and chemical neuroanatomy of the basal ganglia and the cerebral cortex in normal animals and in experimental models of Parkinson disease. Current objectives are to study the plasticity of GABA-mediated signaling in the basal ganglia and cerebral cortex and the mechanisms involved in motor and cognitive disorders in Parkinson disease in a 6-hydroxydopamine-rodent model of Parkinson’s disease and on human brains.  The research involves behavioral and biochemical/molecular approaches including analysis of gene expression by in situ hybridization histochemistry and computerized quantitative image analysis, immunohistochemistry, western-blotting and in vivo microdialysis combined with HPLC.

David Somers, Ph.D. (Associate Professor, Department of Psychology (CRC)) heads the Perceptual Neuroimaging Laboratory that investigates the neural and cognitive representations and mechanisms of perception, attention, and perceptual short-term memory in humans using functional magnetic resonance imaging, computational modeling and psychophysics.  In addition to the primary focus on vision, collaborative work investigates tactile and auditory processing. Functional MRI studies focus on within-subject data analysis that permits the functional segregation of small cerebral cortical areas that are often obscured in across-subject analysis.  Recently, they identified and characterized two new visuotopic areas in human posterior parietal cortex using these methods.

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.