Seminars in Neuroscience

All neuroscience seminars are held on Mondays, at 12:00 PM, in room 301 BMRC (Erma Byrd Biomedical Research Center), unless otherwise noted. Check the calendar for the most updated information.

Fall 2019

Content to come.

Spring 2019


“Lifelong Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injury”

Dr. Zachary Weil
Ohio State University

Synopsis: Traumatic brain injuries, particularly those that occur early in life can persistently increase vulnerability to other disease states including substance abuse, repeated traumatic brain injuries and stroke. Thus traumatic brain injuries represent the start of a disease process rather than an isolated event. This talk will focus on our investigations into the neuroimmune and neurometabolic mechanisms that mediate enhanced vulnerability after an injury.


“A Multifunctional Role for Hypocretin in Addiction”

Dr. Brooke Schmeichel
National Institute on Drug Abuse

Synopsis: Drug addiction is a chronically relapsing disorder that impacts multiple motivational mechanisms and can be conceptualized as a progression from positive reinforcement (binge/intoxication stage) to negative reinforcement (withdrawal/negative affect stage). One theory of addiction is that the negative emotional state that drives such negative reinforcement and compulsive drug-taking is derived from dysregulation of key neurochemical elements involved in the brain stress systems. One such brain stress neuropeptide, hypocretin, is particularly poised not only as a modulatory factor of the drug-induced stress response, but also plays a role in reward systems and arousal systems that contribute to the motivation to compulsively use drugs. This seminar will provide evidence for the multifunctional role of hypocretin in motivated behavior, positioning hypocretin neurotransmission as a potential nexus in the neurocircuitry underlying addiction.

**Seminars will be held on Tuesday at 12:00 PM


“Enhanced skeletal muscle proteostasis as a determinant of CNS protein quality control and neural function in the aging brain”

Dr. Constanza Cortes
Duke University

Synopsis: Skeletal muscle is a powerful regulator of organismal proteostasis and metabolism and is arising as a novel modulator of CNS function and aging. My work aims to understand these novel muscle-to-brain cell non-autonomous neuroprotective pathways, determine their potential role in CNS aging and disease, and uncover new therapeutic opportunities for promoting CNS quality control and function in age-related brain diseases.

**Seminars will be held on Tuesday at 12:00 PM


“Cortical and Subcortical Circuits for Decisions and Choices”

Dr. Rafiq Huda
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Synopsis: Goal-oriented decision making requires neuronal activity distributed across the brain; however, the organizing principles for how interactions between specific neuronal populations in distinct brain regions support decisions and choices remain elusive. In my postdoc work, I revealed a large-scale neural circuit consisting of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the visual cortex (VC), and the brainstem motor region of the superior colliculus (SC) that is critical for perceptual decisions in mice. This work integrated a host of cutting edge techniques including two-photon calcium imaging, optogenetics, sophisticated behavioral paradigms, and viral-based circuit tracing. In my own lab, I will leverage these tools to provide a holistic model for how cell specific circuits guide decisions based on disparate sources of information and will provide a strong mechanistic basis for understanding neural circuit dysfunction in a range of neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders.

*Seminars will be held on Thursday at 12:00 PM


"Fatty Acid Binding Protein and Synaptic Transport of Endocannabinoid in the Brain"

Dr. Samie Haj-Dahmane
University of Buffalo

Synopsis: Endogenous cannabinoids or endocannabinoids (eCBs) are lipid-signaling molecules, which play a key role in the regulation of an array of physiological and behavioral functions, including pain, addiction, mood, learning and memory. How endocannabinoids regulate neuronal communication in the brain is one of the main focus of my research. In this seminar, I will present some of the recent advances in our understanding of the mechanisms of synaptic endocannabinoid transport in the brain.


Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute Feature Seminar

"Gold Standards for a Gold Medalist"

Virginia "Ginny" Thrasher
West Virginia University

Wednesday, February 6th @ 1 PM
WVU Eye Institute Auditorium

Synopsis: Ginny Thrasher, a senior biomedical engineering major and Olympic Air Rifle Champion, has partnered with  the Human Performance research team in the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute over the course of the year to track the relationship between her heart rate and athletic performance.

Thrasher will present on the data and discuss how the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute uses applied neuroscience to improve human health and wellness. Using her background as an elite athlete, she brings a new perspective to a topic -- showcasing the impact of the Institute’s research, both locally and globally.

An underlying theme of her talk, Thrasher hopes that continued collaboration between WVU units, like the School of Medicine, other Health Sciences programs, engineering and athletics can create significant improvements to health and performance.


“Regulation of Injury Response in Neurons and Glia”

Dr. Meifan "Amy" Chen
UT Southwestern Medical Center

Synopsis: Damage to the central nervous system (CNS) triggers a multicellular response that impacts injury outcome. Designing effective strategies for neural repair, therefore, requires comprehensive knowledge of how different cell types react to injury, and how they influence each other’s behavior. This talk covers identification of a novel transducer of the CNS injury signal, with neuron-specific and astrocyte-specific functions. Future work will capitalize on this discovery to dissect neuron-glia and glia-glia communication towards the goal of promoting neural repair.

*Seminars will be held on Thursday at 12:00 PM


“Corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF) at the intersection of alcohol dependence and stress”

Dr. Florence Varodayan
The Scripps Research Institute 

Synopsis: Stress plays a critical role in alcohol use disorders. Alcohol has anxiolytic properties and is often used as “self-medication” to cope with stress, while stress is a primary trigger for alcohol craving and relapse in alcoholic patients. The broad focus of my postdoctoral work has been to understand mechanistically how alcohol and stress dysregulate discrete brain circuits and synapses to promote the adverse behavioral outcomes associated with alcohol use disorders. Here I will discuss my work that highlights the synaptic influence of the stress peptide corticotropin releasing factor (CRF)in the transition to alcohol dependence.


"Long-term Consequences of Neurotrauma"

Dr. Rudolph Castellani
West Virginia University

Synopsis: A role for traumatic brain injury in downstream neurodegenerative proteinopathy is increasingly accepted in the literature. In depth review of historical and recent literature, however, along with careful assessment of the relevance and limitations of current experimental constructs, suggest that the null hypothesis is still in play. Some
caution is warranted before accepting the notion that traumatic brain injury of whatever severity and whatever degree of repetition causes genuine neurodegenerative disease.


"Cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases (PDEs), novel targets for treatment of alcoholism"

Dr. HanTing "Hunter" Zhang
West Virginia University

Synopsis: Excessive alcohol (ethanol) drinking is responsible for nearly 80,000 deaths per year in the US and for the development of alcohol use disorders including alcoholism, which affects 18 million Americans. PDEs are a super enzymatic family (PDE1-11) that hydrolyses intracellular cyclic nucleotides (i.e. cAMP and cGMP). The presentation will provide demonstrations for that the PDE4 family is involved in the regulation of ethanol drinking and ethanol withdrawal-induced negative behaviors in rodents. Intracellular mechanisms will also be discussed.


“Analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, and Dependence-inducing Effects of Cannabinoids”

Dr. Steven Kinsey
West Virginia University

Synopsis: Cannabis and its extracts have been used for millennia for their psychoactive and medicinal properties. In this talk, I focus on the pain-reducing effects of cannabinoids, with an emphasis on mouse models of chronic neuropathy and in inflammation. I will also discuss cannabis use disorder and new pharmacological approaches to reducing cannabinoid dependence.


"Circadian Clocks and Sleep in Drosophila"

Dr. Ravi Allada
Northwestern University
Host: Dr. HanTing "Hunter" Zhang

Synopsis: Circadian (~24 h) clocks are found from bacteria to humans, are found in virtually every organ and tissue, and control the expression of large swaths of our genomes. Circadian clocks have also been implicated in timing the length of the day to mediate adaptive responses across different seasons. Yet the molecular mechanisms by which circadian timers mediate these effects especially in animals is unclear. Here I will describe a new clock component that mediates seasonally relevant behaviors.

Fall 2018


“Cell-Specific Pallidal Interventions Produce Long-Lasting Motor Recovery in a Mouse Model of Parkinson's Disease”
Dr. Aryn Gittis
Carnegie Mellon University
Host: Dr. Aric Agmon

Synopsis: The identification of distinct cell types in the basal ganglia has been critical to our understanding of its function and the treatment of neurological disorders. The external globus pallidus (GPe) is a key contributor to motor suppressing pathways in the basal ganglia, yet its neuronal heterogeneity has remained an untapped resource for therapeutic interventions. We found that optogenetic interventions that dissociate the activity of two neuronal subpopulations in the GPe induce long-lasting recovery of movement in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease, revealing potential new cellular targets for improved management of PD motor symptoms.


“Extracellular vesicles in HIV and neurodegenerative disease: Whose team are they playing for?”
Dr. Kenneth Witwer
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Host: Ashley Russell and Dr. Jim Simpkins

Synopsis: Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are released by all known cell types as membrane-delimited packets of nucleic acids, proteins, metabolites, and more. EVs are thought to communicate various messages both locally and distantly in the multicellular organism. In this seminar, we will discuss the interplay of EVs and retroviruses such as HIV and SIV, including the abilities of EVs to drive infammatory responses in the periphery and the central nervous system. The contributions of EVs to propagating effects of cigarette smoke on the immune system will also be examined. Finally, the importance of studying EVs in tissue, at their most likely site of action, has prompted our group to develop new methods for extracting and characterizing tissue EVs. Progress towards this goal will be highlighted with a view towards future studies of tissue EVs in neurodegeneration.


“Therapeutic Inflammation and Other Surprises in Ischemic Stroke and Vascular Dementia”
Dr. Gregory Bix
University of Kentucky
Host: Dr. Sophie Ren

Synopsis: A primary event in stroke pathogenesis is the development of local and peripheral inflammatory responses known to contribute to poor outcome and impaired functional recovery. This inflammatory cascade includes the activation of astrocytes, microglia, and peripheral immune cells that infiltrate the brain causing further injury. Post-stroke inflammation is regulated in part by the pro-inflammatory “master” cytokine interleukin-1, and while the role of IL-1 in stroke pathogenesis is well studied, the role of IL-1 remains largely unknown but may be significant as IL-1 brain levels are profoundly affected by stroke. Importantly, clinical studies blocking IL-1 mediated inflammation (with IL-1RA) have failed to produce significant benefit.


“Circadian genes, rhythms, and the biology of psychiatric disorders”
Dr. Colleen McClung
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
Host: Dr. Randy Nelson

Synopsis: Psychiatric disorders like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, drug addiction and major depression are associated with major disruptions to the sleep wake cycle. I will
discuss recent work from our lab aimed at trying to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which disruptions to circadian rhythms and sleep contribute to the pathophysiology of these disorders. We use a combination of rodent and human studies for this work and our ultimate goal is to develop better treatments for these disorders.


“Development of basal ganglia circuits – the long and short of it?”
Dr. Ron Waclaw
Cincinnati Children's Hospital 
Host: Dr. Eric Tucker

Synopsis: The striatum is the major nucleus of the basal ganglia, which contains striatal projection neurons. These GABAergic neurons are divided into two subtypes; the long projecting direct pathway striatal neurons that innervate the substantial nigra pars reticulata and the short projecting indirect pathway striatal neurons that innervate the external segment of the globus pallidus. Balanced output between these two pathways is essential for voluntary movements and cognitive function. My research is focused on understanding the genetic pathways that control striatal projection neuron development from distinct progenitor domains of the ventral forebrain.


“Breast Cancer and the Brain: What’s the Link?”
Dr. William Walker
Neuroscience Graduate Program
The Ohio State University

Synopsis: Breast cancer is a global health burden. According to the most recent figures from the World Health Organization more than 2 million new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2018. Breast cancer survivors frequently display alterations in metabolism, elevated mood disorders (anxiety and depression), and increased cognitive disturbances. Additionally, breast cancer survivors frequently report increased fatigue and alterations in sleep. However, determining the underlying causes of these deficits has proven to be difficult. In this seminar, we examine the effects of nonmetastatic and metastatic breast cancer on peripheral and central inflammation and behavior. Additionally, we will discuss a novel mechanism by which nonmetastatic breast cancer can alter metabolism and sleep and subsequently increase energy availability for the tumor.


“Long-Term Consequences of Neurotrauma”
Dr. Rudolph Castellani
Professor & Vice Chair of Pathology Research;
Section Chief of Neuropathology Department of Pathology, Anatomy, & Laboratory Medicine
West Virginia University

Synopsis: A role for traumatic brain injury in downstream neurodegenerative proteinopathy is increasingly accepted in the literature. In depth review of historical and recent literature, however, along with careful assessment of the relevance and limitations of current experimental constructs, suggest that the null hypothesis is still in play. Some
caution is warranted before accepting the notion that traumatic brain injury of whatever severity and whatever degree of repetition causes genuine neurodegenerative disease.


“NINDS and the Taxpayers Investment in Neuroscience Research”
Dr. Walter Koroshetz
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health

Fall 2017


"Somatotropic signaling is linked to health and aging via metabolism and the epigenome" 
Dr. Holly Brown-Borg 
UND Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences 
University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences 
Host: Dr. Liz Engler-Chiurazzi

Synopsis: Endocrine hormones play a significant role in aging and longevity. Growth hormone (GH) affects not only somatic growth but also drives many aspects of metabolism and stress resistance. We have shown that GH modulates oxidative and methionine metabolism, mitochondrial function and longevity in GH mutant mice. Our studies focus on delineating the relationships between the methionine metabolic pathway and plasma GH levels as they relate to epigenetic stability. Components of the methionine pathway were differentially affected by dietary methionine level. Underlying GH status also influenced the metabolic responses to alterations of this amino acid. Long-living Ames and GHRKO mice were not able to discriminate differences in dietary methionine in terms of lifespan, food consumption and body weight. GH transgenic mice and the wild type mice from each line lived longer when fed methionine-restricted but not methionine-supplemented diets as previously reported. We have examined DNA methylation differences between Ames dwarf and wild type mice and show that Ames mice exhibit a more stable methylation pattern across the genome over time when compared to wild type mice supporting the notion that epigenetic stability contributes to longevity. These studies indicate that GH status impacts dietary methionine sensing and downstream aspects of metabolism including DNA methylation, health and lifespan.


"The ups and downs of the extended amygdala" 
Dr. Thomas Kash 
Distinguished Professor of Alcohol Studies and Vice Chair for Faculty Development 
Department of Pharmacology 
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, School of Medicine 
Host: Dr. David Siderovski and Josh Gross


Title TBD 
Dr. Nelson Spruston 
Senior Director of Scientific Programs 
Janelia Research Campus at Howard Hughes Medical Institute 
Host: Dr. George Spirou


Title TBD 
Dr. Roger Clem 
Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Psychiatry 
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai 
Host: Dr. Albert Berrebi


Title TBD 
Dr. Theresa Jones 
Professor of Psychology 
University of Texas at Austin 
Host: Dr. Cole Vonder Haar


Title TBD 
Dr. Teng-Leong Chew 
Center Director, Advanced Imaging Center 
Janelia Research Campus at Howard Hughes Medical Institute 
Host: Dr. George Spirou


"Multifactorial hypothesis for Alzheimer’s Disease" 
Dr. Chengzin Gong 
Head, Brain Metabolism Laboratory 
Department of Neurochemistry 
New York State Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities 
Host: Dr. Hunter Zhang

Synopsis: The failure of all AD clinical trials on the basis of a single target, especially on the amyloid cascade hypothesis, during the last two decades lets the AD field think seriously what we have done, where we stand now and where we should head to for AD research. We thus propose the multifactorial hypothesis for AD and a multi-target approach based on this hypothesis for AD drug development. I will present evidence supporting this hypothesis and our preclinical studies that target various pathways/mechanisms involved in AD.

Spring 2017


"Coding and representation of temperature in the Drosophila brain" 
Marco Gallio, PhD 
Assistant Professor of Neurobiology 
Northwestern University 
Host: Dr. Andrew Dacks

Synopsis: Our long term goal is to contribute to our understanding of how sensory stimuli are used to build an internal representation of the physical world, and how this representation is in turn processed into our actions and behaviors. For this, we study temperature sensing and preference in the fruit fly Drosophila. How are hot and cold stimuli detected at the periphery? How are they processed in the brain? How are they integrated with additional sensory streams and internal drives to produce behaviors such as attraction and avoidance? Using the fly as a model system is allowing us to study the basic principles of sensory processing, decision making and motivated behavior in an animal with only 100 thousand neurons, and taking advantage of a highly sophisticated experimental toolkit.


"Electronic cigarettes: What are they and what do they do?" 
Thomas Eissenberg, PhD 
Professor of Psychology (Health Program) 
Director, Center for the Study of Tobacco Products 
Virginia Commonwealth University 
Host: Dr. Melissa Blank

Electronic cigarettes (ECIGs) are a class of products that use a heating element to aerosolize for user inhalation a solution made of solvents like propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin, flavorants, and, usually, the stimulant drug nicotine. Nicotine yield is the amount (in milligrams) of nicotine contained in the aerosol that is emitted by the device. Nicotine delivery is the concentration (in nanograms/milliliter) of nicotine found in user blood plasma after ECIG use. Nicotine yield and delivery are influenced by a variety of factors including device power (battery voltage, heater resistance), liquid nicotine concentration, and user behavior. Data demonstrating the influence of these factors on ECIG nicotine yield and delivery will be presented. In addition, the presentation will include a discussion of the variability of nicotine delivery profiles of ECIG products on the US market, some of which delivery very little nicotine while others exceed the nicotine delivery profile of a tobacco cigarette under similar use conditions. These data are relevant to public health today, given the dramatic rise of ECIG use, particularly in populations where nicotine administration has long-term adverse health outcomes (e.g., adolescents). Understanding factors that influence ECIG nicotine delivery is critical for effective ECIG regulation.


"Noninvasive and bi-directional neural interfaces using ultrasound" 
Parag Chitnis, PhD 
Assistant Professor of Bioengineering 
George Mason University 
Host: Dr. Valeriya Gritsenko

Synopsis: This presentation will highlight recent efforts to develop noninvasive neural interface for detecting and modulating activity in the central or peripheral nervous system. Specifically, we will discuss: 1) feasibility of using photoacoustics for monitoring changes in cell-membrane potential, 2) utility of focused ultrasound for localized modulation of brain activity, and 3) ultrasound-based control of a prosthetic hand.


"Medications testing for cocaine use disorder: Neurobiological substrates, experimental methods, and FDA requirements" 
Richard De La Garza, PhD 
Professor of Psychiatry Research 
Baylor College of Medicine 
Host: Dr. James Mahoney

Synopsis: Despite decades of testing, there are no FDA-approved treatments for cocaine use disorder. Cocaine itself impacts multiple neurotransmitter systems and these effects are complicated by the fact that cocaine users also abuse tobacco (nicotine), alcohol, and marijuana. As such, the identification and testing of medications for cocaine use disorder is challenging. This lecture will outline the means by which candidate medications are selected and tested in humans.


"Transforming smells into action" 
Bob Datta, PhD 
Assistant Professor of Neurobiology 
Harvard Medical School 
Host: Dr. Kevin Daly

Synopsis: The Datta lab studies how information from the outside world is detected, encoded in the brain, and transformed into meaningful behavioral outputs. We address this fundamental problem by characterizing the olfactory system, the sensory system used by most animals to interact with their environment. Here we discuss recent results relevant to understanding sensorimotor coupling in the olfactory system. We first describe a novel molecular mechanism that underlies odor perception; this mechanism defines a new mode of sensory encoding in mammals, and is likely relevant to odor perception across deuterostomal lineages, including humans. We also describe new approaches we have recently developed to understand how genes and circuits important to sensorimotor coupling in the olfactory system might impact behavior; these methods may afford insight into mechanisms that allow animals to flexibly navigate the outside world, and serve as a quantitative prism through which the function of genes and neural circuits can be understood.

Fall 2016


"Invasive cortical neuroprosthetics for sensorimotor science and rehabilitation" 
Robert Gaunt, PhD 
Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine + Rehabilitation 
University of Pittsburgh 
Host: Dr. Sergiy Yakovenko

Synopsis: Over the past decade, several groups have been implanting microelectrode arrays into the sensorimotor cortex of paralyzed individuals. At the University of Pittsburgh, we have worked with two volunteers and have shown that recording and decoding the activity of a few hundred neurons in motor cortex enables a person to control a prosthetic arm in up to 10 degrees-of-freedom simultaneously. But we know that the sensory system is crucially important to regulate ongoing movement and to enable controlled interactions with our environment. In this talk I will focus on our recent efforts to understand how proprioception, that sense of where our limbs are in space, influences motor control using a brain-computer interface and how we might begin to restore cutaneous sensations through electrical microstimulation of the primary somatosensory cortex. Ultimately we aim to restore dexterous hand and arm movements, complete with the appropriate sensory experiences, to people who have lost their limbs or are unable to use them because of injury or disease.


"GABAergic inhibition in neucortical dendrites" 
Michael Higley, MD, PhD 
Associate Professor of Neurobiology 
Program in Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair (CNNR) 
Kavli Institute for Neuroscience 
Yale School of Medicine    
Host: Dr. Aric Agmon

Synopsis:  The vast majority of inhibitory GABAergic synapses in the cortex target pyramidal neuron dendrites, though their function is not well understood.  Using an array of approaches, we show that both phasic and tonic inhibition play key roles in the local regulation of dendritic calcium signaling.  Furthermore, we find that the molecular composition of dendritic inhibitory synapses makes them particularly sensitive to long-term modulation by glutamatergic signaling.  These interactions likely participate in the dynamic rebalancing of excitation and inhibition necessary for the proper function of cortical circuits.


"Development of interneuronal connectivity: role of primary cilia"  
Eva Anton, PhD  
Professor of Cell Biology + Physiology 
UNC Neuroscience Center  
University of North Carolina School of Medicine 
Host: Dr. Eric Tucker


"Mechanisms of neuroplasticity following Constraint Induced Movement therapy: implications for rehabilitation planning" 
Lynne Gauthier, PhD  
Associate Professor of Physical Medicine + Rehabilitation  
Director, Neurorecovery + Brain Imaging Laboratory 
The Ohio State University, College of Medicine   
Host: Dr. Valeriya Gritsenko 

Fall 2015


Paul Barnes, PhD 
Oregon Health & Science University 
Function of Non-Functional Kinases in the Developing Brain 
Host: Dr. Eric Tucker


Tzumin Lee, MD, PhD 
Howard Hughes Medical Institute - Janelia Farm  
Lineage- and Age-Dependent Neural Stem-Cell Fate 
Host: Dr. George Spirou


Robert Friedlander, MD 
University of Pittsburgh 
Role of Caspase Pathways in Neurological Disease 
Hosts: Kelly Smith and Dr. Charles Rosen


Justus Verhagen, PhD 
Yale University 
Time in Olfactory Coding and Perception:  
Optogenetic, Behavioral and Electrophysiological Studies 
Host: Dr. Kevin Daly


Barry Stein, PhD 
Wake Forest School of Medicine 
How Does the Brain Develop Its Ability to Integrate Information from Different Senses? 
Hosts: Paula Webster and Dr. Richard Dey