Neuroscience

Neuroscience is the study of the structure and function of neurons and how they are assembled to produce behaviors.

Neuroscience was implemented as a new interdisciplinary major in 1999, replacing the Psychobiology Program and providing a strong foundation in neuroscience and related courses.

Our students benefit from small classes and investigative labs in their introductory and advanced courses.

Our majors graduate with a liberal arts background and a strong foundation in neuroscience which allows them to proceed to medical school or attend top-ranked graduate neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology Ph.D. programs, including UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Duke, and Northwestern.

The best proof of the success of the Neuroscience Department:

  • 60 percent of our graduates proceed to medical school;
  • 20 percent of our graduates continue on with graduate work in neuroscience, psychology, or neuropsychology;
  • 10 percent of our graduates pursue careers that intersect with neuroscience—for example, patent law or work in the biotech industry.

Faculty Research Discoveries

 

Deborah Bauer

Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the mammalian brain and its synaptic levels are tightly regulated by glutamate transporters, located primarily on glia.  In the nematode, C. Elegans, the major excitatory neurotransmitter is acetylcholine, but glutamate neurotransmission remains critical for a number of functions.  Glutamate synapses in C. Elegans are not surrounded by glia and of the six glutamate transporters expressed, only one is found in neurons.  So, what is the role of glutamate transport in C. Elegans?  In the Bauer lab we are studying worms with glutamate transporter deletions.  So far, we have found changes in simple behaviors, learning and memory, metabolism, and even lifespan!

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22306776

 

Barbara Beltz

In this Developmental Cell paper, the Beltz lab demonstrates that the neural precursors generating new neurons in the brains of adult crayfish come from the immune system. This surprising finding suggests a much closer relationship between the nervous system and immune system than was previously recognized, and has implications for organisms that are higher on the evolutionary tree.

 

Sharon Gobes

Dr. Gobes has discovered that motor regions play a role in the acquisition of vocalizations (Nature Neuroscience). Most recently, she showed that left hemispheric dominance for auditory memories in a Wernicke-like area of the songbird brain develops with experience (PNAS and Scientific Reports).

Photo by Ivar Pel

 

Ginny Quinan

This summer Ginny has been working on a collaborative research project between the Beltz and Tetel labs looking at hypothalamic neurogenic activity in mice. This work has been very exciting, allowing Ginny to connect her background and skills working with mice to the current studies conducted in the Beltz lab exploring the relationship between the immune system and neurogenesis in crayfish.

 

Marc Tetel

Our lab studies how estrogens influence metabolism and anxiety in female mice. Estrogens have profound effects on weight gain and anxiety in women and female rodents. For example, post-menopausal women have decreased levels of estrogens leading to increased anxiety and weight gain, which increases their risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Estrogens have similar effects on anxiety and metabolism in female mice. We and others have shown that ovariectomized mice fed a high-fat diet become obese, while mice treated with estrogens remain lean (Bless et al., 2014). We have extended these studies on energy homeostasis to include how estrogens influence the gut microbiome, which is a collection of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, archaea, protozoa and fungi), their genomes and the factors they produce in the gut.  The gut microbiome has been implicated in a variety of disorders and diseases, including obesity, diabetes, depression and anxiety (Tetel et al., 2018). Using genetically altered mice that lack the hormone leptin (ob/ob) and are obese (Acharya et al., 2019), we found that obesity and estrogens were associated with reduced diversity of the gut microbial community. Understanding the role of estrogens in regulating gut microbiota will provide important insights into hormone-dependent disorders of anxiety and metabolism in women.

 

 

 

Sara Wasserman

The Wasserman Lab uses the fruit fly, Drosophila, to examine how well-defined sensory circuits demonstrate both robustness and flexibility required to generate appropriate behavior in the face of changing internal and external environments. To read more about how we use 'virtual-reality' flight simulators, shown in the image here, please visit: www.wassermanlab.com.

 

 

Mike Wiest

The Wiest Lab uses multi-electrode-array electrophysiological recordings in behaving rats to investigate the neural basis of perception and attention.  Our latest paper (Nanda et al 2019) analyzed average field potential responses to tones presented to rats while they performed a go/no-go discrimination task that requires sustained attention.  We wanted to see to what extent the rat brain responses were analogous human neural responses during similar tasks—because the cellular mechanisms of sensory processing are more accessible to experiments in rats than humans.  We found a component of the evoked potential response (the “P2” peak) that signaled detection of the “target” tone analogously to the human response, but did not observe any response component that signals “response inhibition” (a.k.a. impulse control) as has been reported in the human EEG literature.  Our contribution constrains models of auditory processing in the rat brain, and characterizes similarities and differences with auditory processing in the human brain.