Skip to main content

Research Opportunities

Dive Deep. An extensive and impressive list of scientists work with the Program in Neuroscience. Our faculty specialize in a wide variety of disciplines, with most leading their own research labs. Neuroscience students have the unique opportunity to work directly with faculty who are accomplished experts in their respective fields—a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Explore research labs that are accepting students for the current and upcoming semesters, and search the table below to find a faculty member whose work interests you.

NameContactResearch Description
Aboud, KatherineEmail
Katherine S. Aboud, Ph.D., is a Research Assistant Professor in Special Education at Vanderbilt University, and recipient of the NIH Director’s Early Independence Award (2021). Her research focuses on the neural characterization of reading processes and the treatment of reading disorders using multi-modal neuroimaging approaches and non-invasive brain stimulation.

The goal of her research program is to characterize and enhance adult learning through high-definition, multimodal brain imaging and neuromodulation, with a specific focus on reading and related disorders. To accomplish this, she relies on her expertise in multimodal neuroimaging, neurocognitive models of reading and related disorders, and non-invasive brain stimulation. This unique convergence of expertise has resulted in the following primary arms of her research program: 1.) Individualized, high-definition (fused MRI-EEG) brain characterization of reading processes, 2.) Individualized, high-definition brain characterization of reading disorders, and 3.) Individualized, high-definition non-invasive brain stimulation to enhance learning from texts in populations with and without reading disorders.
Abumrad, Naji
Dr. Naji Abumrad’s clinical interests cover all aspects of general surgery and, particularly, endocrine surgery. His extensive research activities include studies of the mechanism of insulin resistance in the morbidly obese, and in particular, he is conducting studies related to the understanding of the mechanisms involved in the reversal of type 2 diabetes in morbidly obese patients who undergo bariatric surgical procedures. Additional studies carried out in his laboratory, address the metabolic effects of opioid peptides and opiate alkaloids; and in particular cocaine on energy metabolism and fuel mobilization. Dr. Abumrad’s work has been funded by NIH grants during most of his academic career.
Acra, Sari
Impact of Alterations in Caloric Energy Balance and Body Composition on Human Diseases

As part of the team at the Energy Balance Lab at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Acra has been involved in the measurement of energy metabolism using whole-room indirect calorimeters (metabolic chambers). Such a system can be coupled with movement sensors to provide a similar-to-free-living environment where a study subject or patient’s energy expenditure, substrate oxidation, physical activities are accurately measured on a minute-by-minute basis. The lab is also investigating the physiological regulations of energy metabolism, as well as improving the technologies for measuring body composition and physical activity. These investigational and modeling tools have been used to study energy metabolism in several disease states, including obesity and sickle cell anemia.

As part of the aerodigestive program, Dr. Acra is also conducting studies on dyspeptic disorders, including extra-esophgeal manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux disease, the effect of laryngomalacia on swallowing mechanics, and the role of anxiety in propagating esophageal inflammation.
Ascano, ManuelEmail
Cellular Stress

The Ascano laboratory is broadly interested in two areas of cellular stress:
1. The roles and coordination of RNA-binding proteins in regulating gene expression during cellular stress.
2. The cytosolic DNA-sensing pathway involving the sensor cGAS, its second messenger product cGAMP, and the endoplasmic reticulum-bound receptor STING.

Our lab integrates novel biochemical, molecular and cell biological tools with high-throughput transcriptomic and proteomic technologies in an effort to elucidate the gene regulatory networks at play during cellular stress – and how such mechanisms might be manipulated for therapeutic intervention. The lab is affiliated with the Department of Biochemistry at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and is also part of the Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis Programs within the Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at VUMC.

For more information, visit the lab website.
Aune, ThomasEmail
Our research focuses on the use of functional genomic and epigenetic approaches to understand gene regulation.

Our interests range from detailed mechanistic studies of the interferon-gamma gene, a key cytokine produced by cells of the innate and adaptive immune system, to the use of these approaches to gain new insights into human disease. In addition, we have begun to focus our attention on long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) and other species of RNAs that do not code for proteins. We have developed computational and analytic pipelines to identify these RNA species and interrogate their functions in the immune system. This includes the recognition that multiple lncRNA species are transcribed from key genetic loci that confer risk for developing human inflammatory disease.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Avison, CalumEmail
Molecular, Structural, and Functional Correlates of Altered Behaviors Associated with Obesity, Diabetes and Prenatal Drug Exposure

We use molecular, structural and functional brain imaging methods in humans and animals to better understand:

1) how variations in the efficiency of signaling pathways (particularly insulin and dopamine) influence the performance of brain circuits, involved in reward, planning and self-control, and the effect of these variations on behavior. We currently focus on how these systems influence feeding behavior, and to what extent disrupted regulation of these circuits may predispose to and/or be influenced by obesity.

2) the impact of prenatal drug and/or alcohol exposure on structural and functional brain development.
Bachorowski, Jo-AnneEmail
Production and Perception of Nonlinguistic Acoustic Cues

Bachorowski’s research broadly concerns the production and perception of nonlinguistic acoustic cues, with attention given to social and other contextual influences on signal production as well as the impact of vocal acoustics on listener emotional responding. Towards these ends, empirical work variously involves studying laughter, vocal expression of emotion, indexical cueing in speech, and infant-directed speech. Despite the diversity of signals being studied, the work is anchored by two core themes: understanding the linkages between vocal acoustics and affect-related responding, and developing an empirically based approach to vocal signaling that is defensible from principles associated with the selfish-gene theory of evolution. Research methods used in this research include detailed analysis of vocal signals using state-of-the-art unix-based software, perceptual testing, and structural and functional imaging studies.

Neuroscience students working in lab for research credit will be involved in acoustic analysis of vocal signals and will gain exposure to imaging techniques and analysis. These students will also be involved in data collection, which typically involves collecting audio-recordings of both children and college-aged adults participating in socially interactive paradigms. Depending on their interests, these students can also be highly involved in perceptual testing, including stimulus selection, subject testing, and data analysis. Some current questions of interest in perceptual work include listener responsive to various kinds of laugh sounds and listener judgments of talker body size from very short speech sounds.
Bick, SarahEmail
Dr. Bick’s research focuses on uncovering neurophysiological signaling that underlies cognitive and emotional processes using intracranial recordings from human subjects. She studies the signals underlying memory and other cognitive processes. Better understanding of the neurophysiology of these processes allows for the development of new neuromodulation techniques for memory and psychiatric disorders. Her recent publications include: Vagus Nerve Stimulation Versus Responsive Neurostimulator System in Patients with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery; Caudate Stimulation Enhances Learning, Brain, A Journal Of Neurology; Preoperative MRI Findings Predict Diagnostic Utility of Foramen Ovale Electrodes, Journal of Neurosurgery.
Blind, Raymond D.EmailThe Blind Lab explores second messenger signaling in the nucleus. Specifically, we seek discovery in the structure, function and signaling properties of nuclear inositide lipids and soluble inositol phosphates, asking how these molecules directly participate in controlling gene expression. We use genomics, structural biology and chemical genetics to query how nuclear second messengers operate. We then attempt to apply that information to develop drug discovery platforms, with potential to treat cancers and metabolic diseases.

Nuclear lipid signaling is particularly interesting to us because the nucleus contains unique pools of lipids that do not exist in any known membrane structure, but are instead complexed with soluble proteins. We discovered certain pools of nuclear inositides can be directly remodeled by lipid signaling enzymes, with remarkable kinetic properties, providing a new framework to explain how nuclear lipid signaling works.

Current research in our group is 1. determining what role phosphorylated inositols, phosphoinositide lipids and their signaling enzymes play in chromatin biology, 2. determining how nuclear phosphoinositide complexes are structured, 3. identifying rapid nuclear signaling events using chemical genetics, 4. understanding how nuclear receptors acquire phospholipid ligands from membranes.

For more information, please visit the Blind Lab website.
Bodfish, JimEmail
Dr. Bodfish’s research focuses on the pathogenesis and treatment of autism. In particular, he focuses on severe and treatment-resistant forms of autism or what can be termed “autism plus.” Clinically, this includes complex presentations of autism such as behavior & mood problems, nonverbal / minimally verbal, cognitive deficits, sensory & motor disorders, and genetic conditions. The central questions in his research are: what are the objectively measureable characteristics of children with autism who demonstrate poor developmental outcomes, and what are the neuro-behavioral processes that underlie these adverse developmental trajectories? Bodfish is also a clinician and strives to maintain a close linkage of his research with autism clinical service-delivery programs. The Bodfish lab consists of an equal partnership of clinicians, and basic and applied researchers. They use a variety of behavioral neuroscience approaches and methods including: measurement of behavioral phenotypes and dense observational measurement of behavioral patterns (naturalistic objective behavioral observation & coding, micro-behavioral analysis, eye-tracking); measurement of sensory, motor, and affective function (sensory psychophysics, kinematics, pupilometry, facial action coding); measurement of peripheral (autonomic) and central (electrophsyiology, functional neuroimaging) nervous system function. Their translational work includes development of outcome measures, development of behavioral / psychosocial treatment procedures, and behavioral assays for drug discovery in preclinical (mouse) models. The short-term goal of their multi-method approach is to identify valid and reliable markers of the processes that may lead to the development of atypical behaviors that can adversely impact brain and behavioral development. The long-term goal of their research is to leverage models of pathogenesis to develop novel intervention approaches for autism.
Booth, JamesEmail
Brain Learning and Development

The mission of the brain development laboratory is to understand the mechanisms of learning and development. Our research focuses on academically relevant areas such as language, reading, math and scientific thinking. Our models of brain function are informed by our work in neurodiverse populations such as developmental language disorder, late talkers, learning disabilities, anxiety disorders and deaf and hard-of-hearing. By furthering our understanding of the brain bases of individual differences, our work has important implications for assessment and intervention.

For more information, visit the lab website.
Broadie, Kendal S.Email
Nervous System Development

What are the molecular mechanisms underlying coordinated movement, coordinated behavior, cognition, learning and memory? How does the nervous system circuitry underlying these behaviors develop, and how are these circuits modified by experience? How do these mechanisms go awry in inherited neurological diseases and age-related neurological decline? These questions center around the common themes of information transfer and information storage in cells of the nervous system. My long-term interest has been to understand the fundamental principles of nervous system development, function and plasticity by applying systematic genetic analyses to address these questions. My experimental organism, Drosophila melanogaster, has a long and distinguished history as a foremost forward genetic model of neurobiological mechanisms. The primary focus of my laboratory is on the synapse, the specialized intercellular junction which functions as the communication link between neurons. Chemical synapses mediate the vast majority of communication in the nervous system and exhibit plastic properties underlying the behavioral and cognitive malleability of the brain. Our experimental approach is to use a combination of forward genetics, reverse genetics and functional genomics to identify synaptic genes, generate mutants and then assay mutant laboratory uses this strategy to investigate three closely related questions: 1) How do synapses develop?, 2) How do synapses function?, and 3) How do synapses maintain adaptive plasticity?

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Brown-Schmidt, SarahEmailMy research focuses on the mechanisms by which people produce and understand utterances during the most basic form of language use: interactive conversation. I am currently pursuing three questions in related lines of research:

(1) Common ground and perspective-taking: In particular, I am interested in understanding how knowledge about what our conversational partners do and don’t know guide language use. A central goal of my research is to understand how this knowledge is represented in memory, and how the way it is represented guides how it is used, including in conversations with more than two individuals.
(2) Memory and language: In this line of research, I study the memory processes that interact with and support language use. In collaboration with Melissa Duff, I am examining the contributions of the hippocampal-dependent declarative memory system to real-time language processing through the study of individuals with severe declarative memory impairment. In another line of work, I am examining how asymmetries between source and destination memory map onto differences in memory representations between speakers and listeners.
(3) Message formulation: How do thoughts become speech? I am most interested in understanding the first part of this process—the link between ideas or messages, and the very first stages of language production, particularly in unscripted, conversational speech.

In investigating these questions, I combine the visual world eye-tracking technique (Tanenhaus, et al. 1995) with task-based, unscripted conversation. I design the tasks that participants engage in to elicit specific linguistic constructions in experimental conditions of interest without explicitly controlling what the participants say. I call this the targeted language game technique (Brown-Schmidt, 2005). Unscripted conversation differs from the scripted speech typically studied in experimental settings and it affords investigation of processes which are central to language, but have previously been difficult to examine using standard techniques. Critically, my work contributes to theories of language processing by providing novel insights into linguistic processes, as well as providing a test-bed for examining how well standard theories account for language use in its most basic setting.

For more information, visit the lab website.
Calipari, ErinEmail
Defining the Neural Dysfunction that Underlies Psychiatric Disease

Our Vision: Our research seeks to characterize and modulate the precise circuits in the brain that underlie both adaptive and maladaptive processes in reward, motivation, and associative learning, to develop improved treatments for complex and devastating psychiatric disorders.

Research Goals: Defining the neural dysfunction that underlies psychiatric disease.

Our research is guided by two overarching questions:
1. How do neural circuits integrate experiences with positive and negative stimuli to guide future behavior?
2. What are the molecular dysregulations that drive maladaptation in these processes?

One of the most fundamental forms of learning is the ability to associate positive and negative stimuli with cues that predict their occurrence. The ability to seek out rewarding stimuli and avoid negative stimuli is critical to survival and is evolutionarily conserved across species. Organisms achieve this by assigning value to cues that predict these stimuli; however, dysregulation of these processes can precipitate a number of psychiatric disease states. Addiction, depression, and anxiety are all examples of syndromes characterized in part by dysregulation of associative learning. These are among the most prevalent neuropsychiatric disorders and are highly comorbid. Therefore, understanding the neural mechanisms governing associative learning has widespread implications for developing treatment interventions for psychiatric disease. Our work aims to combine cutting edge technology with comprehensive models of psychiatric disease to understand the circuit and molecular dysregulation that underlies these disorders.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Calkins, DavidEmail
Neuroinflammatory Mechanisms of Axonal Degeneration in Optic Neuropathies

Optic neuropathies blind through the progressive degeneration of the retina and optic nerve. As with other diseases of the central nervous system, optic neuropathies involve complex interactions between glial cells and retinal neurons and their axons. These interactions comprise a broad inflammatory response that includes both protective mechanisms and cascades that contribute to programmed degeneration. Our laboratory focuses on neuronal-glial interactions in glaucoma, an optic neuropathy that is blinding some 80 million people worldwide. In glaucoma, sensitivity to pressure in the eye causes the slow retraction of the axons in the optic nerve, which arise from the roughly 1.5 million retinal ganglion cells that collect the light signals used for vision. We utilize both in vivo and in vitro models to isolate the inflammatory signals from microglia and astrocyte glia in the retina and optic nerve that contribute to ganglion cell death. We also focus on the molecular mechanisms intrinsic to ganglion cells and their axons that mediate their sensitivity to ocular pressure and could represent novel therapeutic targets.

Students working in our laboratory will receive training in many modern techniques in neuroscience, including primary neuronal cell culture, digital microscopy, quantitative real-time PCR, immunocytochemistry and ELISA. Students are also expected to participate in journal club and laboratory meetings on a regular basis.
Carter, Bruce D.Email
Mechanisms of Neurotrophin Signal Transduction

I. Mechanisms of neurotrophin signaling through the p75 receptor: Our lab studies the signaling mechanisms regulating neuronal survival. Programmed cell death in the nervous system is a naturally occurring process in mammalian development; however, abnormal apoptosis is the basis for many neuropathologies, e.g. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson”s disease and ischemic injury. The delicate balance between neuronal survival and death is regulated, in part, by a family of growth factors referred to as the neurotrophins. The neurotrophins promote neuronal survival and differentiation through binding to the Trks, a family of tyrosine kinase receptors. Interestingly they also can induce apoptosis and degeneration through the p75 receptor, a member of the TNF receptor family. We have discovered a number of signaling pathways regulated by the p75 receptor and one of our research goals is to further delineate the molecular mechanisms by which it functions using a number of molecular, cellular and in vivo approaches.

II. Process by which apoptotic neurons are phagocytosed: Following the extensive apoptosis that occurs during development of the nervous system, the resulting neuronal corpses must be efficiently removed to prevent an inflammatory response, which can eventually lead to neurodegeneration. Unfortunately, the molecular mechanisms underlying this phagocytic process in the nervous system are poorly understood. We recently demonstrated that satellite glial precursor cells are the primary phagocytes that engulf the many neuronal corpses in the developing dorsal root ganglia and identified a novel engulfment receptor, Jedi1, as mediating this engulfment. Current efforts are aimed at determining the mechanisms by which Jedi1 signals engulfment and investigating its role in regulating phagocytosis in other regions of the developing and mature nervous system.

III. Molecular mechanisms of myelin formation: Myelin is a multilamellar structure that ensheaths axons and allows for the rapid conduction of electrical signals, acts as a protective barrier for axons, regulates regeneration and provides trophic support for neurons. This structure is produced by Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system and oligodendrocytes in the CNS. The formation of peripheral myelin during development is initiated by carefully orchestrated signaling between Schwann cells and their associated axons, but the mechanisms underlying this intercellular communication remain poorly understood. The overall objective of this project is to elucidate the mechanisms regulating the formation of this essential neural structure. We have identified a number of signaling pathways in Schwann cells that are critical for their differentiation into a myelinating phenotype and are currently investigating the regulation of these signals in normal development and in models of demyelinating neuropathies.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Cascio, CarissaEmail
Autism, Sensation and Perception, Multisensory Processing, fMRI, Diffusion Tensor Imaging

Dr. Cascio’s research applies behavioral and neuroimaging techniques to explore the neurobiology of sensation and perception in autism. She is interested in how sensory processing difficulties impact the reduced social interaction and repetitive behaviors that characterize autism.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Catania, ElizabethEmail
Animal Sensory Systems

Our lab studies animal sensory systems with a focus on brain organization, behavior and evolution. We study sensory specialists because these species can reveal general principles of brain function and provide information for how nervous systems have evolved to meet the challenges animals face in diverse sensory worlds.
Catania, Kenneth C.EmailMammalian Sensory Systems with a Focus on Cortical Organization, Function, and Development

In my laboratory, we study the organization and function of mammalian sensory systems. Our investigations take a wide range of approaches including studies of animal behavior, investigation of peripheral sensory receptor structure and function, and studies of the organization of the central nervous system with an emphasis on neocortex. Information from these different approaches is integrated to obtain a broad view of how animal behavior, sensory receptors, and central nervous systems have evolved to meet the challenges mammals face in diverse sensory worlds.

For more information, please visit the lab website..
Charles, DavidEmail
Deep Brain Stimulation on Parkinson’s Disease, Spasticity in Adults, Cervical Dystonia

Our clinical research group’s focus is on improving the treatment of movement disorders, with specific interests in early stage Parkinson’s disease, Spasticity, and Cervical Dystonia. We undertake patient-oriented research in a variety of care settings including outpatient clinics, residential care homes, and retirement facilities.

Deep Brain Stimulation in Early Stage Parkinson’s Disease

More than one million Americans are living with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative movement disorder characterized by loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra. Deep brain stimulation of the subthalamic nucleus (STN-DBS) is an approved adjunctive therapy for mid- and advanced stage Parkinson’s disease that improves motor symptoms, quality of life, and activities of daily living while also reducing medication burden and associated complications. Vanderbilt University Medical Center completed the only prospective, randomized clinical trial testing DBS in very early stage Parkinson’s disease. Our ongoing line of research aims to investigate DBS in early stage Parkinson’s disease to better understand if this treatment may slow the progression of the disease.

Spasticity in Adults

Spasticity is a form of muscle rigidity, which is often experienced by people with nervous system injuries. Spasticity can lead to many negative symptoms, such as increased incidence of urinary tract infection, pain and discomfort, and reduced quality of life. Additionally spasticity may impair activities of daily living, making it difficult to perform care activities for patients who require support. Our current line of research aims to validate the use of newly developed tools to assist with the identification and diagnosis of spasticity and to improve diagnostic criteria through identification of new markers of disease.

Cervical Dystonia in Adults

Cervical dystonia is painful over-activity of the neck and shoulder muscles resulting in an abnormal head position. Our current line of research addresses treatment continuation in patients who receive treatment at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center outpatient clinic.

Clinical Research Opportunities

We are accepting applications for undergraduate research roles within our team. Please send your résumé with an accompanying statement of interest to
Chiang, ChinEmailSignaling Mechanisms That Control Brain Function and Disease

Our laboratory is interested in the signaling mechanisms that control brain function and disease. Associative sensory learning is a process whereby the brain learns an association between two sensory stimuli from the environment. Dysfunction in this process has been linked to developmental disabilities in humans such as autism. The brain consists of inhibitory or excitatory neurons that express neurotransmitter GABA or glutamate, respectively. We are interested in how these neurochemically distinct neurons are generated and how they contribute to the processing of sensory stimuli and progression of brain tumors. We use cerebellum as a system because it is required for associative sensory learning and the origin of the most common type of pediatric brain cancer. We use cutting edge techniques and multidisciplinary approaches that include the utilization of state-of-the-art mouse molecular genetics, live cell imaging, behavioral neuroscience, gene expression profiling and orthotopic grafting of tumor cells, combined with state-of-the-art localized stereotaxic injection system for in vivo gene delivery and manipulation.
Claassen, DanielEmail
Diagnosis and Treatment of Neurodegenerative Diseases

Dr. Claassen’s research focus is to understand brain-behavior relationships in the context of the diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. His research studies assess therapeutic outcomes in neurodegenerative disorders, using innovative cognitive neuroscience and neuroimaging tools. In Parkinson disease, he examines how dopaminergic medications can alter behavior, and his current studies address cognitive changes that account for impulsive compulsive behaviors. His research uses multimodal imaging studies, including assessments of blood flow (arterial spin labeling), resting state BOLD connectivity, MR spectroscopy, and Positron Emission Tomography, as well as novel cognitive neuroscience tools assessing medication effects on risk, reward-learning, and impulsivity.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Colbran, Roger J.Email
Regulation of Excitatory Synapses

Modulation of the synaptic glutamate receptors and synaptic morphology by postsynaptic phosphorylation/dephosphorylation plays a central role in normal earning and memory and is ofter disrupted in diseased states. In particular, calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinase II (CaMKII) and protein phosphatase 1 (PP1) are known to play critical roles in long-term potentiation (LTP), long-term depression (LTD) and other forms of synaptic plasticity that underlie learning and memory. This laboratory employs a broad array of approaches to investigate the molecular basis for synaptic regulation of CaMKII and PP1 and the physiological roles of these molecular mechanisms. Disruptions of these mechanisms in diseased states such as Parkinson’s Disease and Angelman Syndrome are being uncovered, suggesting potential novel strategies to treat these devastating neurological disorders.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Collins, SheilaEmailDr. Collins’ laboratory is interested in the biochemical mechanisms that regulate body weight and insulin sensitivity. Activation of the adrenaline receptors, specifically the members of the beta-adrenergic receptor (beta-AR) family, provides the major stimulus for the hydrolysis and release of stored lipids. They are also key drivers of a process called ‘nonshivering thermogenesis’ in brown fat. Brown fat cells are specialized cells rich in mitochondria and largely defined by their ability to express the mitochondrial uncoupling protein UCP1, which allows the dissipation of the proton gradient in the inner mitochondrial membrane to yield heat at the expense of ATP production. In addition to the beta-ARs, the cardiac natriuretic peptides also activate these same mechanisms through a parallel pathway in fat cells. By understanding their signal transduction properties and how they are regulated, Dr. Collins hopes to be able to find a way to increase energy expenditure in fat in the fight against obesity and the devastating diseases that accompany it, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension. Dr. Collins has made seminal contributions in the field of obesity and diabetes at the molecular and physiological level.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Compas, BruceEmailCurrent research focuses on:

(1) Family Cognitive-Behavioral Prevention of Depression in Families of Depressed Parents (NIMH); (2) Parent-Child Communication and Coping with Pediatric Cancer (NCI); (3) Remediation of Neurocognitive Problems in Children with Central Nervous System Tumors (NCI); (4) Neurocognitive Function in Children with Sickle Cell Disease (NICHD); (5) Neurocognitive Function in Children with Congenital Heart Disease; (6) Enhancing Coping and Communication in Children with Cancer and Their Parents: A Novel Internet-Based Intervention (ALSF).

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Conn, P. JeffreyEmailNeuropharmacology/Drug Therapies for Brain Disorders

The primary focus of research in our laboratory is to develop a detailed understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in regulating chemical and electrical signaling in the central nervous system (CNS). Such changes in neuronal function are likely to play important roles in all normal physiological processes in the brain and are critical for development of a variety of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, epilepsy, drug dependence and other neurological and psychiatric disorders. We are especially interested in understanding how signaling is regulated in identified neuronal circuits that are important for these human neurological and psychiatric disorders. This is a highly multidisciplinary endeavor and we employ a broad range of techniques including electrophysiology, biochemistry, imaging, anatomy, and molecular biology techniques. Since our ultimate goal is to understand the impact of cellular and molecular changes to changes in intact neuronal networks and animal behavior that impact CNS disorders, we also employ a range of techniques in behavioral and systems neuroscience.

By developing this range of understanding, we hope to develop new strategies for treating neurological and psychiatric disorders. Our current research is especially focused on development of novel treatment strategies for schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease. Also, we have increasing interests in drug addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, and severe anxiety disorders. In each of these areas, recent basic and clinical studies are shedding light on new approaches to develop novel treatment strategies.

Our basic science studies are revealing a number of key regulatory proteins that have exciting potential as novel drug targets for treatment of serious psychiatric and neurological disorders. In addition to pursuing the basic research needed to identify these novel drug targets, we are directly involved in taking these findings to the next step by pursuing early stage drug discovery efforts. This is an innovative and exciting endeavor that is rare in academic institutions. We have now purchased or gained access through collaborations with chemical companies to libraries of over 1 million novel small molecules with drug-like properties. In addition, working in the Vanderbilt Institute for Chemical Biology, we have established the infrastructure needed for high throughput screening these molecules for unique compounds that have potential for development into novel drugs. The combination of high throughput screening and synthetic chemistry provides an unprecedented opportunity for discovery and development of small molecules that may pave the way to eventual discovery of new drugs. By moving aggressively to move our basic science efforts into early stage drug discovery programs, we are making exciting advances that could lead to novel treatments for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and other CNS disorders.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Cooper, MichaelEmailOur research program is focused on molecular signaling pathways that regulate cell growth in the nervous system during embryonic development and tumorigenesis. Malignant gliomas are primary brain tumors that are recalcitrant to current therapies and patients with this disease currently have a poor prognosis. Malignant gliomas are composed of heterogeneous cell types and identification of particular cell types within the tumor that contribute to growth and recurrence may lead to the development of more effective therapies. In particular, the identification of tumor-initiating cells has provided a framework for conceptualizing a hierarchical arrangement of multipotent cancer stem cells giving rise to transit-amplifying and postmitotic glioma cell types. Impediments to investigating this fundamental concept in glioma biology include the lack of cell markers for characterizing the phenotypes, lineage relationships and regulatory molecular pathways of these putative cellular compartments. Currently, CD133 is the most commonly used surface marker for prospective isolation of tumor-initiating cells from malignant gliomas. However, the array of cellular phenotypes encompassed by CD133 expression is not known.

One avenue for investigating brain tumor heterogeneity in our laboratory includes studies on the Hedgehog signaling pathway. Towards these goals, the laboratory utilizes a patient tissue repository to identify the specific subtypes of malignant gliomas in which the Hedgehog signaling pathway is operational and activated. Our research team has established a preclinical model for growing human malignant gliomas in mice to demonstrate that Hedgehog signaling regulates glioma growth and that pathway inhibition enhances survival. The Hedgehog pathway appears to be activated in a subset of glioma cells (CD133+ cells), and determining how Hedgehog signaling impacts this cellular compartment in gliomas is a primary focus of research. Longer term goals of these preclinical studies are to design clinical trials of Hedgehog inhibitors based upon selecting patients with malignant glioma who might best respond to Hedgehog inhibitors, defining the mechanism of action of Hedgehog pathway inhibition on glioma cancer stem cells and avoiding potential mechanisms of drug resistance. Our laboratory is also involved in several collaborative efforts to model glioma cellular compartments. One of these is to generate monoclonal antibodies against heterogeneous malignant glioma cell types. A central goal of these studies is to determine if these antibodies can be used to define subclasses of glioma tumor initiating cells and their lineages.
Corbett, Blythe A.EmailSocial Emotional NeuroScience Endocrinology (SENSE)

The primary aim of my Social Emotional NeuroScience Endocrinology (SENSE) lab is to better understand the relationship between social interaction and stress responsivity in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to identify phenotypes and inform treatment. To this end we currently employ several methods of analysis including neuroimaging (fMRI), neuropsychological testing, hormone expression and sophisticated behavioral coding. The SENSE program is fundamentally translational through the inclusion of naturalistic paradigms, peer mediation and novel therapeutic approaches that have been informed by previous and ongoing studies in my lab.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Constantinidis, ChristosEmailMy lab’s overarching goal is to understand how neuronal activity in the cerebral cortex gives rise to cognitive functions. We address this question through designing behavioral tasks, acquiring experimental data via neurophysiological recordings and imaging, and computational analysis of the results. Our work focuses primarily on non-human primate models, but we aim to translate knowledge gained from these experiments for the benefit of human conditions in which cognitive functions have been compromised.

For more information, visit the lab website.
Cutting, LaurieEmail
The Education and Brain Sciences Research Lab (EBRL) seeks to understand why some children are successful at learning to read while others are not. Using neuroimaging and behavioral testing, our NIH and NSF funded studies investigate reading comprehension, Neurofibromatosis Type 1, and the effects of reading interventions in children with and without reading difficulties.

We aim to improve the diagnosis and treatment of children who are struggling learners by combining findings from neurobiological, psychological, and educational perspectives.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Darby, RyanEmail
Dr. Darby is interested in patients with symptoms at the border zone between neurology and psychiatry. Both neurological and psychiatric patients can share similar symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations, and criminal behavior. This suggests that these symptoms may share a common pathway across different diseases. However, these different diseases often have neuroimaging abnormalities in different locations, making it difficult to understand how the same symptom could develop.

To address this problem, Dr. Darby helped to develop a new neuroimaging approach to localize complex behaviors to brain networks, rather than specific brain locations. He first studied this in patients with focal brain lesions, showing that brain lesions in different locations causing the same syndrome were all functionally connected to the same brain network. Dr. Darby’s current work is focused on applying this method to neurodegenerative disorders in order to understand why brain atrophy in different locations can cause the same clinical syndrome. He is using this method in combination with behavioral testing to study criminal behavior in frontotemporal dementia patients and delusions/hallucinations in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and Lewy Body Dementia. Dr. Darby has received numerous awards for his research, including the Stanley Cobb Award from the Boston Society for Neurology and Psychiatry, the Young Investigator Award from the American Neuropsychiatric Association, and the S. Weir Mitchell Award for Outstanding Early Career Investigator from the American Academy of Neurology. His work is generously funded by the Sidney R. Baer, Jr Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the BrightFocus Foundation.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
De la Huerta, IrinaEmail
The goal of our research is to understand the roles that retinal neurons, in particular photoreceptors, play in the development of retinal vascular diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration, and retinopathy of prematurity.

Questions addressed in the lab include:

1. How do metabolic perturbations, such as hyperglycemia and hyperlipidemia, affect retinal neurons?

2. How do metabolic perturbations affect the “crosstalk” between retinal neurons, glia, and retinal vasculature?

3. What are the signaling pathways involved in these processes?

We use tissue culture, biochemical, and molecular approaches in combination with in vivo models of diabetes to answer these questions.

For more information, visit the lab website.
Denton, Jerod S.Email
Potassium Channel Physiology

1. High-throughput discovery of novel potassium channel probes
Inward rectifying K+ (Kir) channels play key roles in cardiac, neuronal, endocrine and epithelial physiology and disease. Progress in the field has been hampered by the lack of selective pharmacological probes that target specific members of the Kir channel family. To overcome this barrier, we recently performed a high-throughput screen of approximately 250,000 organic small molecules to discover novel modulators of Kir1.1, the founding member of the Kir channel family. We are working closely with researchers in the Vanderbilt Institute for Chemical Biology to understand how these newly discovered compounds modulate Kir channel function. Students interested in combining chemistry, pharmacology and electrophysiology to understand K+ channel structure-function relationships are strongly encouraged to apply.
NOTE TO ROTATION STUDENTS: Students interested in working on this project will have a unique opportunity to use state-of-the-art automated (Port-a-Patch) and fully automated (Patchliner) patch clamp electrophysiology workstations from Nanion Technologies ( These automated patch clamp rigs require very little training, so students can spend their rotation studying ion channels, not learning how to patch clamp a cell.

2. Potassium channel structure, function and trafficking in human disease
Heritable mutations in the gene encoding Kir1.1 give rise to antenatal Bartter syndrome (aBs), kidney tubule disease presenting with renal salt and water wasting and acid-base disturbances. More than 30 loss-of-function mutations distributed throughout the channel protein have been identified; however, surprisingly little is known about the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying channel dysfunction for most of these mutations. We are using a combination of molecular modeling, novel computational methods, mutagenesis, protein biochemistry and patch clamp electrophysiology to understand how mutations disrupt Kir1.1 channel function and trafficking in aBs patients. We are also testing if novel channel activators discovered in high-throughput screening (see above) can rescue certain loss-of-function aBs mutations in Kir1.1.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Donthamsetti, PrashantEmailThe Donthamsetti Laboratory is a new addition to the Department of Pharmacology and Vanderbilt Brain Institute. We are developing cutting edge molecular tools to uncover the complex interplay between neural signaling and behavior in health and disease. Our approach is interdisciplinary and spans molecular biology, high throughput screening, confocal microscopy, electrophysiology, and in vivo analysis of mouse models.
Duff, MelissaEmail
Hearing and Speech Sciences

The overall goal of the Communication and Memory Lab is to understand the cognitive and neural substrates of memory, language, and social interaction. We conduct basic and applied research across two main themes: 1) Characterizing the role of hippocampal dependent memory in language use and processing, and in flexible cognition more broadly; 2) Identification of long-term outcomes and recovery patterns in individuals with traumatic brain injury and the development of interventions for disorders of memory, learning, and communication. Methodologically, the lab combines neuropsychological, neuroimaging, and eye-tracking methods together with behavioral methods. We work to address questions about the contribution of distinct forms of memory to various aspects of communication and social interaction and the dynamic network of neural and cognitive systems that support memory and language in the everyday communicative settings. The lab is also home to the Brain Injury Patient Registry, a repository of demographic information, and state of the art neuropsychological and neuroanatomical data from individuals with focal lesions and traumatic brain injury, which serves as a unique resource for conducting large-scale basic and translational research in the area of acquired brain injury.
Dykens, Elisabeth M.Email
Behavioral Phenotypes of Persons with Genetics Syndromes Associated with Developmental Disabilities

Elisabeth M. Dykens, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology and Human Development and Associate Director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.

Her research examines the behavioral phenotypes of persons with genetics syndromes associated with developmental disabilities, primarily Williams, Prader-Willi, and Down syndromes. Although much of her work focuses on psychopathology, Dykens also examines profiles of neurocognitive, personality, and adaptive strengths and weaknesses in these disorders, and how these unusual profiles refine treatment and shed light on typical development.

Current studies examine: (1) physiological and neurological mechanisms of compulsive and hyperphagic behavior in persons with Prader-Willi syndrome, including specific neuropeptides involved in aberrant satiety and behavior, and EEG/ERP studies; (2) visual-spatial strengths in persons with Prader-Willi syndrome; (3) physiological and neurological factors involved in both high rates of anxiety and unusual musical talents in persons with Williams syndrome,including clinical, EEG/ERP and fMRI studies; (4) the development and trajectory of maladaptive behaviors and unusual strengths in syndromes, and how these relate to genetic status, aging, and intervention; (5) families of persons with mental retardation, including stress, coping, and positive outcomes for family members; and (6) interface between positive psychology, and research and interventions for persons with developmental disabilities.
Englot, DarioEmail
The Brain Imaging and Electrophysiology Network (BIEN) Lab at Vanderbilt University is led by neurosurgeon Dario J. Englot, M.D., Ph.D. The lab integrates human neuroimaging and electrophysiology techniques to study brain networks in both neurological diseases and normal brain states. One major focus of the lab is to understand the complex network perturbations in patients with epilepsy, by relating network changes to neurocognitive problems, disease parameters, and changes in vigilance in this disabling disease. Multimodal data from human intracranial EEG, functional MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, and other tools are utilized to evaluate resting-state, seizure-related, and task-based paradigms.

Other interests of the lab include the effects of brain surgery and neurostimulation on brain networks in epilepsy patients, and whether functional and structural connectivity patterns may change after intervention. Through studying disease-based models, the group also hopes to achieve a better understanding of normal human brain network physiology related to consciousness, cognition, and arousal. Finally, surgical outcomes in functional neurosurgery, including deep brain stimulation, procedures for pain disorders, and epilepsy, are also being investigated.

For more information, visit the lab website.
Ess, Kevin C.Email
Molecular Mechanisms Required for Normal Brain Development

Research in my laboratory is focused on deciphering the molecular mechanisms required for normal brain development and how disruptions of these processes lead to malformations of the cerebral cortex. Children with such aberrations typically suffer from severe seizure disorders (epilepsy) as well as severe cognitive and behavioral problems such as autism. To approach these complex neurologic disorders, we have been studying tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a disease that prominently features cortical malformations and is caused by loss of either the TSC1 or TSC2 genes. TSC is fairly prevalent and is the most common genetic cause of both seizures and autism in children. Our previous investigations led us to hypothesize that the TSC1/2 genes are essential for neural progenitor cell function and control the differentiation and migration of neurons and glia. Abnormalities of these developmental processes may cause the cortical malformations in TSC that underlie epilepsy as well as autism in these patients. To study these complicated abnormalities of the human brain, we have generated experimental models of TSC using genetically engineered mice as well as in vitro progenitor cell systems. The ability to manipulate Tsc1 or Tsc2 gene expression in mouse progenitor cells allows us to determine the role of these genes during neuronal and glial cell specification, differentiation, and migration. Our long term goal is to use these models to precisely define the molecular pathways used by the TSC1/2 genes during human brain development. This knowledge will facilitate the development of rational and hopefully more efficacious therapies for children who suffer from epilepsy or autism.
Fazio, LisaEmail
Improving Learning Through Basic Principles From Cognitive and Development Psychology

My research is concerned with how to improve student learning using basic principles from cognitive and developmental psychology. I examine simple knowledge such as history facts, as well as more complex forms of knowledge such as mathematics. My research informs basic theories about learning and memory, while also having clear applications for classroom practice.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Feola, BrandeeEmail
My research investigates negative emotions throughout development and across psychiatric disorders, focusing on anxiety and psychotic disorders. My lab is particularly interested in how individuals with psychosis differ in stress, anxiety, and threat responses. My research uses multiple methods including brain imaging (structure, activation, connectivity), physiological measures (cortisol, heart rate, skin conductance), and behavioral assessments (clinician-rated, self-report). We are currently conducting a neuroimaging study on the intersection of anxiety and psychosis that examines how threat responses differ in people with schizophrenia and how anxiety relates to individual differences in responses.
Flynn, RobbEmail
I am a molecular and cellular biologist focused on understanding the etiology and physiology of various diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and liver. Specifically, my laboratory investigates how altered lipid handling, commensal gut microbiota and lipid peroxides contribute to disease onset and progression. We additionally examine how improved glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity are restored after bariatric surgery. Using human tissue samples obtained before and after bariatric surgery as well as a variety of genetically- and surgically-engineered mouse models I have made significant contributions to the understanding the endocrine effect of bile acids, the pathology of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and the contributing role of reactive lipid peroxides to immune cell activation. We are experienced with and routinely employ an ensemble of technologies including mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS; -omics), next-generation sequencing and stable isotopic tracers to characterize the profiles and fates of bioactive lipids and other metabolites that are phenotype mediating. We are using our new-found knowledge to develop genetically-engineered large animal models of NAFLD, engineer commensal therapeutic bacteria that can confer metabolic benefits, identify new targets of NAFLD using precision-based medicine and apply novel scavengers of reactive lipid peroxides for the treatment of liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease and insulin resistance. Through our basic and translational scientific efforts we intend to better understand the deleterious effects of nutrient overprovision, identify new targets for therapeutic intervention, and improve patient care and quality of life.
Fuhrmann, SabineEmail
The goal of our research is to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating differentiation, morphogenesis, and regeneration of ocular tissues.

Questions addressed in the lab include:
How is eye development initiated in the anterior neuroepithelium and what factors determine the early steps of eye formation?
How is differentiation and morphogenesis of ocular tissues controlled?
What are the signals involved in these processes, what are their downstream targets, and is there crosstalk between different pathways?
How is regeneration of ocular tissues achieved?

We use conditional inactivation in mice, in combination with a variety of tissue culture, biochemical, molecular, and cell biological approaches. We are investigating the function of extracellular signaling pathways (e.g. Wnt) and intracellular effectors (e.g. Cdc42) in ocular morphogenesis and differentiation. Development and adult regeneration of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is another major focus of the lab.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Gallagher, Martin J.Email
Understanding how mutations in genetic forms of epilepsy change nerve function.

In 1995 S.F. Berkovic and colleagues identified the first mutation in an ion channel (nicotinic acetylcholine receptor) associated with a genetic form of human epilepsy. Since then genetic linkage analysis has identified mutations in sodium, potassium, calcium, and GABA ion channels in patients with inherited seizure disorders. Dr. Gallagher’s main research interest is to deduce how these mutations affect ion channel structure and function.

Dr. Gallagher express’ human wild type and mutant ion channels in HEK cells and then use patch clamp techniques to determine the physiologic changes in the mutants as well as the effect of drugs. Neurotransmitters and drugs are applied using a rapid-step technique (sub-millisecond exchange times) to simulate how these compounds interact with the ion channels in an actual synapse. This rapid application technique accurately reproduces miniature endplate currents obtained from neurons.
Gama, VivianEmail
Stem cells (both normal and cancerous) are defined by their ability to self-renew, in order to maintain their numbers, and their ability to differentiate into distinct cell types. Our lab is interested in uncovering new pathways regulating these stem cell properties. We are particularly interested in characterizing the functions of apoptotic proteins in maintaining self-renewal and pluripotency and in the regulation of differentiation and reprogramming. Using genetics, biochemistry, proteomics and live cell imaging we are uncovering the role of apoptotic proteins for the maintenance of the stem cell phenotype. We use embryonic stem cells (ESCs), induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and cancer stem cells (Glioblastoma and Medulloblastoma) as model systems.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Gamazon, Eric R.EmailWe develop and apply genomic and computational methods to investigate the genetic architecture of complex traits, including disease risk and drug response. We are interested in what can be learned from DNA sequence and multi-omics data about disease mechanism, therapeutic intervention, molecular evolution, and genome function. An ongoing project involves understanding gene regulation across tissues and cell types to gain insights into disease mechanisms and therapeutic targets. We utilize large-scale DNA biobank data linked to electronic health records, along with data science and computation, to identify genes involved in human health and disease in diverse populations, to discover novel biomarkers, and to enable a comprehensive systems view of the disease phenome. Here is a short description of research interests.

Dr. Eric R. Gamazon is broadly interested in genomics, computational biology, and genomic medicine and leads an R01-funded interdisciplinary laboratory of computational scientists, molecular biologists, and physicists. He is a faculty member of the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute. His lab is a team of computational and wet lab researchers, reflecting diverse research interests.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Garber, JudyEmail
Developmental Psychopathology, Mood and Anxiety Disorders

Judy Garber, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Human Development, Psychology, and Psychiatry. Her research focuses on the etiology, course, outcome, treatment, and prevention of depression in children and adolescents. She studies social-cognitive, environmental, biological, and interpersonal factors that contribute to the onset and maintenance of mood disorders. Dr. Garber is interested in the efficacy of cognitive-behavioral interventions with depressed adolescents, and the prevention of depression, particularly in high-risk offspring of depressed parents.

Dr. Garber’s current research includes (a) a randomized controlled trial (RCT) testing the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy enhanced with training in theory of mind/perspective-taking; (b) a multi-site RCT testing the efficacy of a coached, online mindfulness program with adolescents; and (c) a multi-site RCT testing a family-based cognitive-behavioral/coping intervention for the prevention of depression in offspring of depressed parents.
Gauthier, IsabelEmail
Visual Object Recognition

Dr. Gauthier studies visual object recognition, with particular emphasis on the plasticity of recognition mechanisms and their neural substrate. One issue that is of particular interest to her is how the visual system organizes itself into what appears to be category-specific modules. For instance, face recognition is often given as an example of a highly specialized module that may function independently from general object recognition mechanisms. However, faces are among the most visually similar objects that we need to recognize individually and most of us acquire a large amount of expertise in doing so throughout our lives. A diversity of techniques (e.g., expertise training with computer-generated objects, brain-lesion studies, functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments) can be used in order to explore factors that may contribute to the tuning of general mechanisms for the particular problem of face recognition. Current research continues to explore the role of expertise in object recognition, including new lines of research into perceptual expertise with letters and also haptic expertise. Other projects include looking at the role of spatial frequencies in various visual areas involved in object recognition and investigating interactions between the visual and semantic systems.
Gordon, ReynaEmail
Music Cognition Lab

Our primary research interest is the relationship between rhythm and language development in children. This work is currently focused on investigating: 1) associations between rhythm perception/production and grammar skills in children with typical and atypical development, 2) neural and behavioral mechanisms underlying these associations (i.e., speech rhythm sensitivity and auditory working memory), and 3) the potential of musical training to improve language skills in children with language disorders.

Our past work has used time-frequency and ERP analyses of EEG data to examine the dynamics of auditory perception and their relation to social cognition in developmental disabilities (Williams Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and MECP2 duplication syndrome). We are currently beginning a new series of studies that investigate musical experiences as a tool for social engagement in children with Autism spectrum disorders, with Dr. Miriam Lense, a Visiting Research Fellow in our Lab.
Gould, Kathleen L.Email
Cell Cycle Control, Pre-mRNA Splicing

Proper coordination of nuclear and cell division is necessary for the normal development of all eukaryotic organisms and for the maintenance of genomic integrity. The goals of my laboratory are two-fold: 1) to understand the molecular mechanisms regulating cytokinesis and 2) to learn how cytokinesis is coordinated with other events of the cell cycle including chromosome segregation and microtubule cytoskeletal rearrangements. We are asking a) what is the full complement of proteins that comprise the cytokinetic machinery, b) how is the cytokinetic machinery precisely localized between segregating chromosomes, c) what molecular event(s) triggers constriction of the cytokinetic machinery, and d) what ensures the correct timing of cytokinesis with respect to chromosome segregation?

To address these questions expeditiously, we are using yeast as a model organism.

Yeast offers many experimental advantages for the study of cell cycle regulation including facile genetics and a fully sequenced and annotated genome. Using genetics, proteomics, live cell imaging, biochemistry, and structural biology we are unraveling the sequence of events that directs formation and then constriction of the cytokinetic ring. We are also studying protein phosphorylation signaling pathways and ubiquitin ligases that control the spatial precision of cytokinesis, the organization of the microtubule cytoskeleton through the cell cycle, and the timing of cytokinetic events during mitosis.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Graham, Todd R.Email
The overall goal of our lab is to determine how biological membranes are assembled and organized. This includes analysis of how proteins are localized to the appropriate organelles in the secretory and endocytic pathways, and how P4-ATPases contribute to membrane asymmetry, protein trafficking and human disease. Our research relies heavily on the use of model systems, such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae and mus musculus, and techniques such as molecular cloning, cell imaging, flow cytometry, genetics and biochemical analysis of proteins.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Grueter, BradEmail
Advance the Current Understanding of the Nucleus Accumbens

The goal of the Grueter lab research program is to advance the current understanding of the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a brain region responsible for integrating information from diverse inputs and modifying complex motivated behaviors, including its involvement in adaptive responses to rewarding and aversive stimuli. Specifically, we strive to elucidate the molecular constituents in the NAc that are necessary and sufficient to drive complex motivated behaviors. As part of the mesolimbic dopamine system, the NAc integrates a complex mix of excitatory, inhibitory and modulatory inputs to optimize adaptive motivated behaviors. Dynamic alterations in synaptic transmission within this circuitry are strongly implicated in the development and expression of many neuropsychiatric disorders. Thus, two broad questions we address are: 1) how does in vivo experience such as cocaine exposure, pain, or high fat diet alter the neurocircuitry of the NAc? 2.) What are the synaptic mechanisms underlying the behavioral adaptations to in vivo experience? The approaches we incorporate allow us to thoroughly characterize the synaptic circuitry of the NAc in basal and pathophysiological conditions using a combination of cutting edge techniques in electrophysiology, molecular biology, metabolic phenotyping, optogenetics and behavior. These studies will provide information on how the NAc circuits integrate environmental stimuli and allow for specific behavioral responses. This enhanced understanding of NAc function may provide a basis for a more individualized approach to the treatment of many psychiatric disorders.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Gurevich, EugeniaEmail
I am interested in the regulation of dopaminergic signaling in the normal and diseased brain. My current studies are focused on the proteins mediating homologous desensitization of G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), arrestins and G protein-coupled receptor kinases (GRK). These proteins are very important for the normal functioning of the brain, because they determine the intensity and duration of the GPCRs response to stimulation. If the desensitization process is compromised, neurotransmitter receptors, many of which belong to the GPCR family, often become supersensitive. Conversely, if desensitization is facilitated, the response could be completely lost. We are currently studying the role of GRKs and arrestin in regulating the signaling of dopamine receptors in the striatum in Parkinson’s disease and in response to L-DOPA therapy. We are also interested in how GRKs and arrestins regulate dopaminergic responsiveness to psychostimulant drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine and the role these proteins play in drug addiction. To answer these questions, we use virus-mediated gene transfer to increase or decrease the concentration of GRKs or arrestin in the brain of living animals and measure alterations in behavior.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Gurevich, VsevolodEmail
Structure and Function of Arrestins and their Role in Cell Signaling

The lab studies the regulation of signaling by G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), focusing on structure, function, and biology of arrestin proteins. The lab has two groups of projects. Our work in vision focuses on visual arrestin interactions with light receptor rhodopsin. These projects involve a variety of methods, from structural, biochemical, and biophysical work with purified proteins to electroretinography in living mice. We engineered enhanced mutants that do not require rhodopsin phosphorylation for tight binding. We are testing the ability of these mutants to compensate for defects of rhodopsin phosphorylation in genetically modified mice. The initial success of our proof-of-concept studies suggest that this is a viable approach for compensational gene therapy in vision, as well as in other systems where excessive GPCR signaling underlies the pathology. We are also studying the interactions of non-visual arrestins with numerous GPCRs abundant in the nervous system, such as dopamine receptors (involved in addiction, Parkinson’s disease), NPY receptors (feeding behavior and obesity), etc. As arrestins play a role in many branches of signaling underlying life-or-death decisions in the cell, we are working on designing arrestin-based molecular tools that can prevent neurodegeneration.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Hackett, Troy A.Email
Auditory Neuroscience

Dr. Hackett studies the organization of the auditory cortex combining anatomical and neurophysiological techniques. The major emphasis of the research is to assemble a model of auditory cortical processing through identification and characterization of the cortical areas involved in the processing of auditory information. These goals are accomplished by a combination of methods, including: 1) anatomical tracing to identify the neuronal circuits that comprise the auditory cortical and subcortical network; 2) neurochemical and genetic profiling of those circuits; 3) neurophysiological recording of neurons; and 5) comparative analyses of these features between model species. The long term goal of this research is to establish a comprehensive model of auditory processing in the human cerebral cortex. Research is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIDCD).
Hamm, Heidi E.Email
Molecular Basis of Signaling Mechanisms Mediated by G Proteins

My work is focused on understanding the molecular basis of signaling mechanisms mediated by G proteins, which are switch proteins. G proteins are normally active, but a receptor that has received a specific signal can activate G proteins, leading to changes in the activity of enzymes that produce second messengers such as cyclic AMP and calcium. The research in my laboratory is aimed at understanding how G proteins become activated by receptors, how they in turn activate effector enzymes, and how they turn off. We determined the sites of interaction between proteins using a method of decomposing the proteins into small synthetic peptides and determining which peptides blocked interaction sites. To understand the process more fully, we determined the atomic structure of the proteins in collaboration with the group of Paul Sigler. We used X-ray crystallography to solve the three-dimensional structures of G proteins in their inactive and activated forms. These high-resolution structural studies allowed us to postulate specific hypotheses regarding mechanisms of receptor: G protein interaction and activation, G protein subunit association- dissociation and effector activation.
Harrison, FionaEmail
Role of Vitamin C and its Transporters (SVCT1 and SVCT2) in Brain Function

The focus of the Harrison lab is the role of vitamin C and its transporters (SVCT1 & SVCT2) in brain function during development and in neurodegenerative diseases. We use a wide variety of behavioral testing techniques along with a more molecular approach to understand the mechanisms behind the changes we observe.

Current projects : Vitamin C in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease. We use transgenic mice that carry human mutant genes for APP and PSEN1 which cause Alzheimer’s disease and cross these with mice that have additional or only half of the normal copies of the SVCT2. With these models we can study the effects of a lifetime of low, normal and high levels of vitamin C in the brain on Alzheimer’s disease neuropathology and cognitive deficits.

Vitamin C in the brain during development. We use a number of different mouse models including mice that express high or low levels of the SVCT2, mice that lack the SVCT1, and mice that cannot synthesize their own vitamin C and are supplemented with different amounts of it in their diet. Low vitamin C can cause scurvy in utero leading to death before or shortly after birth, and in less severe cases can causes permanent damage to brain function leading to permanent behavioral deficits. We aim to isolate the role of vitamin C in development and the mechanisms behind deficiency-induced damage.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Hatzopoulos, AntonisEmail
Cardiovascular Progenitor Cells to Study Heart and Blood Vessel Development

Our research focuses on cardiovascular progenitor cells as a model system to study heart and blood vessel development and as cell therapy tools in adult disease models. We have shown that in vitro expanded embryonic endothelial progenitor cells form blood vessels after transplantation in the developing embryo. In adult disease models, we found that vascular progenitor cells are originally recruited to sites of angiogenesis by endothelial P-selectin. In mouse models of multiple tumors, we demonstrated that the progenitor cells home to hypoxic metastases with high VEGF expression, but spare well-vascularized tumors and normal organs. Based on these findings, we used the cells as a??Trojan horsesa?? to deliver toxic agents directly to the tumor tissue killing malignant cells and blocking tumor growth. Exploring further the specific accumulation of progenitor cells to ischemic sites in vivo, we found that transplantation of progenitor cells under acute (heart) or chronic ischemia (hindlimb) enhances vascularization and improves tissue recovery. Our laboratory currently investigates the mechanisms of cardiac cell specification during embryonic stem cell differentiation and the biology of progenitor cells after ischemic injury in the adult heart. We found that canonical wnt signaling is activated during scar formation and is a critical pathway in the activation of endothelial cells and myofibroblasts after experimental myocardial infarction. We have recently discovered that the BMP antagonist PRDC is an integral component of the regulatory network that fine tunes both Bmp4 expression and signaling activity during heart development, providing novel insights into the molecular basis of congenital cardiac defects. We currently investigate the role of PRDC in cardiac repair after ischemic injury. Our laboratory is a member of the Cardiovascular Cell Therapy Research Network (CCTRN) and the Progenitor Cell Biology Consortium (PCBC), which have been established by NHLBI in 2007 and 2009, respectively.
Heckers, StephanEmail
Early Psychosis

We are interested in the classification of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and psychotic bipolar disorder. We aim to improve the reliability and validity of the available diagnoses and work towards a more personalized approach in the diagnosis and treatment of psychotic disorders.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Herculano-Houzel, SuzanaEmail
Interested in comparative neuroanatomy, cellular composition of brains, brain morphology, brain evolution, metabolic cost of body and brain, sleep requirement across species, feeding time, and really interested in how all of these are tied together. Writes about neuroscience and science in general for the public; recently published The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable (MIT Press, 2016).

A TED talk on how the human brain compares to others and how it came to have the largest number of cortical neurons of any brain can be seen here.
Hoffman, KariEmail
What are the neural population dynamics that give rise to experience-guided perception? How are memories manifest in brain activity? Can we intercept or enhance this activity?

We’re interested in the neural mechanisms underlying perception and memory formation. We use multi-channel recording and stimulation techniques applied during behavioral tasks, along with time- and frequency-domain analysis techniques. The goal is to understand neural phenomena such as the cellular basis of oscillatory brain activity and then to determine the role these phenomena may play in adaptive behaviors such as memory-guided exploration of the environment.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Humphreys, KathrynEmail
Dr. Humphreys trained as a clinical psychologist and has expertise in infant mental health. Her work centers on identifying pathways to the development of psychopathology. Given the importance of early experience and plasticity of the developing brain, she focuses on caregiving experiences in early life, with a particular interest in identifying targets for prevention and intervention programs. Her research includes tools from neuroscience, including magnetic resonance imaging, in infants, children, and adults, as well as biological markers of aging and health.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Ihrie, RebeccaEmail
Proliferation and Fate in Stem Cells and Brain Tumors

We are interested in how extracellular signals are integrated within stem cells to direct self-renewal, proliferation, and the generation of committed progeny. Fast-dividing progenitor cells share many molecular features with cancer cells, and the pathways regulating neural stem cells are frequently disrupted or altered in brain tumors. The laboratory focuses on a unique stem cell niche in the brain: the subventricular zone (SVZ). We use both in vitro and in vivo methods to perturb specific signaling pathways in neural progenitors and brain tumor cells and measure alterations in stem cell potential, proliferation, and differentiation. Understanding how the long-lived neural stem cells in this region persist throughout life will provide significant insight into the properties of progenitor-like cells in brain tumors.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Irish, JonathanEmail
Our lab studies how signaling controls cell identity in healthy human tissues and in diseases, including cancer and immune disorders. Our neuroscience research projects include:
1. quantitative analysis of neural differentiation using single cell measurements of proteins and signaling molecules,
2. dissecting the unique immunology of the human brain stem cell niche in health and disease,
3. creating computational tools to automatically identify normal and malignant neural lineage cell subsets,
4. screening to identify compounds with novel functions in regulating neural and immune cell identity.

The lab’s approach emphasizes combined use of bench and computational single cell techniques. Dr. Irish trained at Stanford University where he created a new approach to measure signaling in human cells and applied new bench and computational tools to stratify patient clinical risks based on cell signaling biology. In the last 5 years, the Irish lab at Vanderbilt has published >40 peer-reviewed manuscripts dissecting cell signaling interactions and creating machine learning tools to quantify cell identity.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Jackson, James C.EmailJames Jackson, PsyD is the Assistant Director of The ICU Recovery Center at Vanderbilt (one of the only clinics in the United States devoted to treating survivors of critical illness), a Research Associate Professor, and the lead psychologist for the CIBS Center at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He earned his PsyD degree in Clinical Psychology at Biola University in July 2001, completed a psychology residency at the Vanderbilt/VA Psychology Consortium, and was a VA Clinical Research Center of Excellence (CRCOE) Fellow and a Visiting Scholar at the Oliver Zangwill Center in Ely, England, where he received extensive training in neuropsychological rehabilitation. A licensed psychologist and active researcher and clinician, he is one of the world’s leading authorities on depression, PTSD, and cognitive functioning in survivors of critical illness. He has authored over 90 scientific publications in leading scientific journals and has been interviewed in articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and many other prominent media venues. Dr. Jackson is a popular lecturer and has spoken at academic meetings, major universities and medical centers around the globe.
Jackson, Lauren ParkerEmail
All eukaryotic cells must solve a logistical challenge by moving transmembrane proteins and lipids between different membrane-bound organelles, much like Fedex moves packages between different hubs. We investigate these fundamental biological processes, broadly referred to as membrane trafficking pathways. Using a range of techniques in the modern life sciences, we explore how cells initiate and regulate these pathways that are so critical to human health and disease. We aim to identify unknown components and to characterize the molecular mechanisms of ill-defined pathways. Furthermore, we hope to provide insight into human diseases, including neurological disorders and cancers, that are caused by mutations in or loss of vital trafficking proteins.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Jacobson, DavidEmail
The focus of the Jacobson lab is on understanding how ion channels of pancreatic islet-cells and dorsal root ganglion (DRG) sensory neurons influence the pathogenesis of diabetes and pain. Ion channels control Ca2+ entry into islet-cells, which is required for hormone secretion that regulates blood glucose homeostasis. In DRG sensory neurons electrical excitability and Ca2+ influx regulates pain perception. Calcium influx into islets and DRG neurons becomes perturbed in patients with diabetes and chronic pain respectively. However, the mechanism(s) responsible for perturbed Ca2+ homeostasis in these cells have not been defined. Therefore, the goal of the Jacobson lab is to determine if ion channels that modulate islet hormone secretion and DRG neuron nociception can be utilized as therapeutic targets for treating diabetes and pain.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Jansen, E. DucoEmail

Dr. Jansen’s lab is focused on developing lasers and other optical technologies for use in medicine and biomedical research. In particular our work on optical stimulation of excitable tissues has received international attention. In this effort we use small infrared laser pulses as a high precision alternative to electrical stimulation to induce action potentials in nerves, neurons and other excitable tissues. Efforts include the investigation of the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon, development of novel laser devices including implantable optical stimulators, development of laser-based prosthetic devices using the optical technology as the primary high precision neural interface. Active collaborations are in place with the Department of Otolaryngology at Northwestern University, the FES Center at Case Western University, the Neuroscience Dept at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and Lockheed-Martin-Aculight (Bothell, WA).
Jaser, SarahEmail
Dr. Jaser studies risk and protective factors in children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes. She has demonstrated the effects of adolescent coping, maternal adjustment, and parenting on adolescents’ glycemic control and quality of life. She is currently developing and testing interventions to improve outcomes in youth with diabetes and their families. These include a program to help mothers cope effectively with the stress of parenting adolescents with type 1 diabetes, a positive psychology intervention to improve adolescents adherence, and sleep-promoting programs for children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes.
Jefferson, AngelaEmail
Cognitive Aging and Mild Cognitive Impairment

Dr. Jefferson’s interdisciplinary programmatic research focuses on discovering underlying mechanisms for unhealthy cognitive changes in older adults, such as mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, for the purpose of informing prevention and therapeutic targets.

Dr. Jefferson’s research team has a particular interest in cardiovascular and cerebrovascular health associated with cognitive changes, as many factors associated with vascular health are modifiable and ideal for prevention or therapeutic intervention.

Specific areas of interest include (1) examining relations between cardiac function and blood flow to the brain and its impact on brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiology; (2) researching alterations and diseases of vascular biology, such as inflammation and hypertension, in connection with brain aging and Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiology; and (3) understanding the etiology of cerebrovascular changes, such as white matter alterations, and relations between white matter degradation and abnormal brain aging.

Dr. Jefferson’s research program also focuses on discovering and implementing early detection methods for abnormal cognitive aging among older adults and refining the diagnostic profile for mild cognitive impairment.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Johnson, Carl H.Email
Cellular/Molecular Biology of Biological Clocks

My lab studies daily biological clocks in a variety of organisms, and we use luminescence as a tool to monitor these clocks. In mammals, our lab uses transgenic mice and mammalian fibroblasts expressing different kinds of light-emitting enzymes (“luciferases”) to monitor rhythms of gene expression and calcium levels by the rhythmic glow of the reporter luciferase. Therefore, our lab uses luminescence as a tool to monitor circadian rhythms in the brain and in cell cultures. These studies are directed towards understanding the calcium signal transduction pathway to the core clock and the role of clock genes in the fundamental mammalian clockwork. We have recently extended our studies to the genetics of the human biological clock. We are examining clock gene polymorphisms in human populations to determine how the neurogenetics of the biological clock affects our ability to adapt to shiftwork cycles and how it caninfluence mental health (esp. depression).

My laboratory also studies rhythmic behavior in bacteria (specifically, blue-green algae). To study the clock mechanism in cyanobacteria, we used a bacterial luciferase reporter as a genetic marker in order to find other genes that control clock function. My lab, in collaboration with labs in Japan and Texas A&M, has identified three bacterial genes that are essential for biological clock function. In collaboration with Drs. Martin Egli and Phoebe Stewart at Vanderbilt, we study the structural biology of these bacterial clock proteins. The three purified proteins exhibit circadian oscillations in a test tube! Therefore, the Johnson/Egli/Stewart labs are taking advantage of our past structural work to analyze and explain how these proteins can oscillate in vitro. Furthermore, my lab is using clock mutants of the bacteria to provide the first rigorous evidence for the adaptive significance of circadian clocks in fitness.

Finally, we developed a new method for measuring protein-protein interactions based upon the resonance energy between a luciferase and a fluorescent protein. This method is called Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, or BRET. This technique has allowed the development of novel reporters for intracellular calcium and hydrogen ions. A bright future is envisioned for BRET.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Jones, CarrieEmail
PET and Functional MRI, to Explore the Underlying Mechanisms of Novel Ligands Targeting Different G Protein-Coupled Receptors (GPCR) and Transporters within the CNS and the Implications of these Effects on Different Disease States, Most Notably Schizophrenia

Dr. Jones’ In Vivo Pharmacology team is dedicated to utilizing translational approaches, including assessment of changes in behavior, neurochemistry and imaging endpoints such as PET and functional MRI, to explore the underlying mechanisms of novel ligands targeting different G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) and transporters within the CNS and the implications of these effects on different disease states, most notably schizophrenia.

For more information, please visit our lab website.
Jordan, LoriEmail
Hemorrhagic and Ischemic Stroke in Children

Lori Jordan MD, PhD is Assistant Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics. Dr. Jordan’s clinical research program focuses on hemorrhagic and ischemic stroke in children. Stroke is as common as brain tumor in children but is vastly understudied. Children who suffer a stroke in childhood have decades to live with their neurological deficits, and typical motor and cognitive development is often disrupted.

Predictors of Recovery from Intracerebral Hemorrhage in Children:
This is the first prospective study of intracerebral hemorrhage (also called hemorrhagic stroke) in children with detailed neurological follow-up of at least 12 months after stroke. All children, other than very premature babies, with non-traumatic brain hemorrhage may join the study.

We are investigating predictors of good recovery as well as poor neurological outcome. The goal is to find targets for intervention and treatment. This study involves detailed volumetric analysis of hemorrhage size and location.

Ischemic Brain Injury and Cognitive Impairment in Adolescents and Young Adults with Congenital Heart Disease:
Adolescents and young adults with congenital heart disease (CHD) have multiple risk factors for neurological and cognitive impairment including genetic causes and brain injury. Stroke and brain injury are often clinically “silent” in the sense that they do not cause overt signs of stroke, though they may cause cognitive impairment. We are assessing the prevalence of ischemic brain injury in adolescents and young adults with surgically treated CHD as well as the impact of brain injury on cognition and behavior.

There are also a number of collaborative projects between Neurology and Cardiology/Cardiac Surgery retrospectively studying aspects of cognitive function, cerebrovascular disease, and ischemic brain injury in adolescents and young adults with CHD.
Kaas, GarrettEmail
Currently my work in the Sweatt lab revolves around two main projects. The first involves the investigation of two recently discovered Tet1 isoforms (Zhang et al. 2016) and their roles in regulating the neuronal epigenome. Using a wide-variety of approaches, including genetic, epigenetic, electrophysiological and NGS methodologies, we hope to gain a better understanding of their functions within the mammalian nervous system.

My other focus lies in the generation and optimization of genetic tools designed to manipulate DNA methylation patterns, both genome-wide and at the level of individual loci. As another layer of specificity, these tools are being developed to allow to experimenter both temporospatial and cell type-specific control over the introduction or removal of these epigenetic marks. With these tools, we hope to explore the dynamic nature, specificity and function of both 5-methylcytosine and its oxidized derivatives, 5-hydroxymethylcytosine, 5-formylcytosine and 5- carboxylcytosine, in the CNS.
Kaas, Jon H.Email
Brain Organization, Development, Evolution, and Plasticity

Our interests are in how sensory and motor systems are organized, process information, and relate to behavior. Because we are especially interested in how the human brain is organized, much of our research is on primates, including human brain tissue. Our approaches are anatomical, histochemical, and electrophysiological. We are also quite interested in how these systems recover from injury and adjust to sensory change. We work on visual, somatosensory, auditory and motor systems. Some of our research is on the development of these systems. Other research is comparative, in an effort to understand how mammalian brains vary, and how complex brain systems might have evolved.
Kang, Jing-Qiong (Katty)Email
Understanding the Role of GABAergic Signaling in Disease Conditions

The Kang Laboratory is interested in understanding the role of GABAergic signaling in disease conditions as well as in normal brain development. Currently, lab staff members are investigating the molecular pathophysiology of genetic variations in GABAA receptor subunit genes and two common pediatric syndromes: epilepsy and autism. In addition, the lab is interested in identifying common mechanisms overlapping severe genetic epilepsy syndromes and neurodegeneration. They are trying to understand why a single nucleotide change in a particular GABAA receptor subunit gene could give rise to severe epilepsy, impaired social and learning abilities as well as other comorbidities which could define the whole life of a child. They use in vitro approaches to understand the details of how a mutant GABAA receptor subunit gene and protein behaves and the adaptive responses of the host cell. They use in vivo approaches, such as genetically modified mouse models, to understand the changes at more physiological and systematic levels. Lab staffers aim to dissect out the detailed changes at gene, protein, cell, neural circuitry, and behavioral levels for given GABAA subunit gene mutations. Their final goal is to identify mechanism-based therapies for those who suffer from these disorders in order to improve patients’ treatments and life outcomes.
Kaverina, IrinaEmail

Microtubules (MTs), 25-nm self-assembling polymers serve as highways for organelles and molecular transport within a cell. During cell division, MTs are arranged into the mitotic spindle and drive chromosome segregation. In interphase cells, MT network organization and modes of MT-dependent transport are much more variable, reflecting functional diversity of cells and tissues. For example, MT functions include secretory trafficking, organelle positioning, and control of site-specific activities (e.g. actin polymerization), thereby defining cell shape and physiology. Paradoxically, our understanding of interphase MT networks is by far less advanced that the understanding of mitotic machinery. Kaverina Lab at Vanderbilt aims to close this gap in knowledge. We study how complex MT networks are arranged, and how specialized MT arrays support distinct cellular tasks.

The lab is interested in:

1. Establishing principles of MT network architecture. An important determinant of MT network organization is location and activity of MT-organizing centers (MTOCs), where MTs are nucleated. We have recently found that the Golgi complex is capable to serve as MTOC, defining MT organization in multiple cell types. Elucidating the molecular and functional properties of Golgi-derived MTs is one of our main goals.
2. Understanding how variations in MT networks are translated into specifics of cellular architecture and physiology. We are particularly interested in cell types which define major human diseases: we study MT-dependent regulation of (1) insulin secretion from pancreatic beta cells (diabetes), (2) the Golgi in motile and proliferating cells (development and cancer), (3) the actin cytoskeleton in vascular smooth muscle cells (cardiovascular disease).

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Key, Alexandra (Sasha)Email
Brain Mechanisms Supporting Cognitive Strengths and Weaknesses in Persons with Developmental Disabilities

The VKC Psychophysiology Lab supports researchers in investigating psychophysiological correlates of observed behavioral profiles in infants, children, and adults with typical and atypical development. Lab users receive access to electroencephalography (EEG), event-related potentials (ERP), and eye tracking (ET) techniques, which allow them to collect more extensive data than would be available using standard behavioral assessments alone, leading to new insights about the neurodevelopmental processes, brain-based markers of risk for adverse developmental outcomes, and additional objective measures of treatment effects.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Kujawa, AutumnEmail
Department of Psychology and Human Development

Our lab use multiple methods (e.g., psychophysiology, neuroimaging, behavior) to study emotion across development. We are particularly interested in reward responsiveness, emotion regulation, and social processing and the ways in which affective neuroscience can be applied to improve identification of youth at high risk for mood disorders.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
King, MichaelEmail
Understanding Bloodstream Processes Using Engineering Tools and Concepts

The King Lab works at the interface between Cellular Engineering, Drug Delivery, and Nanotechnology. We employ tools and concepts from engineering to understand biomedically important processes that occur in the bloodstream, including cancer metastasis, inflammation, and thrombosis. We have found that tumor cells in the circulation can mimic the physical mechanisms used by white blood cells to traffic through the body and adhere to the blood vessel wall, and we have explored strategies to interrupt this metastasis process by targeting specific adhesion receptors. Microscale flow devices have been developed in our lab that recreate the complex microenvironment of the circulation where inflammation and cancer metastasis occur. We have invented new biomaterial surfaces based on natural halloysite nanotubes, that capture rare circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from blood while simultaneously repelling white blood cells. This nanotube-based flow system has gained attention since it can be easily adopted by clinical and biology labs and recreates the natural rolling process that CTCs follow in the body. The selectin adhesion receptors important in leukocyte, stem cell, and CTC trafficking have unique biophysics that make them ideal for targeted drug delivery. The King Lab has pioneered the use of selectin proteins to deliver apoptosis death signals to tumor cells in flowing blood, and to deliver therapeutic cargo (e.g., siRNA, chemotherapeutics) encapsulated in nanoscale liposomes.

The King lab is currently testing these novel cancer therapies in mouse models of metastatic breast and prostate cancer through the use of whole body luminescence imaging. We also have a strong interest in mechanotransduction, i.e., how circulating cells transduce fluid shear forces into changes in biochemical signaling cascades. Our lab has shown that physiological levels of fluid shear stress desensitize white blood cells to bacterial activation signals. Interestingly, fluid shear stress also modulates how tumor cells respond to apoptosis death signals in the bloodstream. All of these cell adhesion phenomena have also been interrogated by a group of multiscale computer simulations that we have developed under the name Multiparticle Adhesive Dynamics.
Lagrange, AndreEmail
Department of Neurology

My lab uses electrophysiological techniques with brain slices and immortalized cultured cells to study the tuning of inhibitory neurotransmission during normal brain function and in disease states, including epilepsy. GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the adult brain and is critical for normal brain function. However, in the developing brain, GABA acts as an excitatory signal that directs normal neuronal migration and synaptogenesis. We have found that a predominant GABA receptor expressed primarily during early life is subject to RNA editing in a developmentally regulated fashion. By introducing a single amino acid change in a key portion of these GABA receptors, RNA editing leads to significant changes in receptor function, thereby producing a brief window in late embryogenesis/early postnatal life in which GABA causes the prolonged/slow depolarizations that are important for the subsequent formation of both excitatory and inhibitory connections later in life.

Lagrange’s clinical interest is in the treatment of women with epilepsy. It has been known for a few years that some of the medications used to treat epilepsy may increase the risk of having a child with congenital malformations. Unfortunately, these teratogenic drugs are also widely used for a number of other neurological and psychiatric disorders, such as migraines and bipolar disorder. Alarmingly, recent work has suggested that children exposed to a subset of these drugs in utero have reduced IQ later in life, and an increased incidence of neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism. Further animal work has suggested that these poor cognitive outcomes may involve subtle cortical malformation/laminar disruption, which are thought to be mediated by the GABA modulatory nature of these drugs. Lagrange’s lab is working to understand the role of specific GABA receptors in brain development and how these processes are regulated during normal development, as well as how they may be disrupted by disease states and medications.
Landman, BennettEmail
Department of Electrical Engineering

The Medical-image Analysis and Statistical Interpretation (MASI) research laboratory concentrates on analyzing large-scale cross-sectional and longitudinal neuroimaging data. Specifically, we are interested in population characterization with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), multi-parametric studies (DTI, sMRI, qMRI), and shape modeling.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Lense, MiriamEmail
Music in Development Disabilities/Rhythm and Language in Infancy

Our research studies the rhythm of social communication and investigates how musical engagement impacts social development from infancy to adulthood. Directed by Dr. Miriam Lense, our research areas include the following:

Music in Developmental Disabilities:
1. SERENADE investigates the potential of musical experiences as a tool to improve social communication and engagement in children with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
2. In the past, we have also used time-frequency and ERP analyses of EEG data to examine the dynamics of auditory perception and social cognition in developmental disabilities (Williams Syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and MECP2 duplication syndrome).

Rhythm and Language in Infancy:
Our Infant Study examines interpersonal synchrony and visual and vocal attention through acoustic analysis, movement analyses, and eye-tracking.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Levin, DanielEmail
Interface Between Concepts and Visual Perception

Research in the Levin lab is focused on the interface between concepts and visual perception. To this end, we have been exploring the concepts associated with a variety of object categories, and the knowledge that drives visual selection during scene and event perception. Some of our research explores how knowledge and other basic cognitive constraints affect scene and event perception. For example, we are currently exploring how people perceive the sequence of natural visual events, and how they represent space while viewing films. In a related line of research, we are exploring adults’ and childrens’ concepts about agency, and testing how these concepts affect event perception, human-computer interaction, and learning from agent-based tutoring systems. Other work explores the perception of scenes and events, especially in the context of cinema. In one project we created a short film to explore how cognitions about number and theory of mind interact during natural event perception.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
MacGurn, JasonEmail
Cell Surface Remodeling in Yeast and Human Disease

The main research objective of my lab is to understand the molecular mechanisms that regulate the composition of proteins at the plasma membrane and to engineer new technologies for artificial remodeling of the cell surface.

Eukaryotic cells respond to environmental cues by remodeling the cell surface, a process that relies on the targeted removal and degradation of plasma membrane (PM) proteins. This turnover process begins when a transmembrane PM protein (or “cargo”) is ubiquitinated, a modification that is recognized by the endocytic machinery and sorted into vesicles. By targeting PM proteins for endocytosis, the cargoubiquitination machinery directly regulates signaling processes, ion and nutrient homeostasis, stress responses, and protein quality control at the PM. Given that these processes are critical for cell growth and differentiation, it is not surprising that many human disease states, including various cancers, are associated with defects in PM protein turnover.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Magnuson, Mark A.Email
Mouse Models, Stem and Progenitor Cell Biology, Phosphoinositol-3-Kinase Signaling, Rictor/mTOR Complex 2, Next Generation Sequencing

We utilize mouse and embryonic stem cells (ESCs) as model systems to study both the mechanisms and genes involved in cell fate specification, especially as it relates to the formation of endocrine cells. By applying the methods of gene targeting and recombinase-mediated cassette exchange in ESCs we have generated animals in which key genes that control cell fate decisions are tagged with different colored fluorescent proteins (FPs). These alleles enable us to see exactly when and where particular genes are expressed, and then to isolate highly purified cell populations by Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting (FACS). RNA from these cells is then converted to cDNA and individual transcripts are quantified using Next Generation Sequencing technology. This approach provides highly detailed, genome wide gene expression information. By performing detailed bioinformatics analysis we anticipate gaining new insights into how endodermally-derived organs are specified.

We are also interested in understanding the mechanisms of signaling through the phosphoinositol-3-kinase (PI3K) pathway, particularly the role of Rictor, a key component of mTOR complex 2, which plays a central role in growth factor signaling. We have found that Rictor/mTOR complex 2 is essential for maintaining a balance between the rate of cell proliferation and cell size in response to growth factor stimulation.
Maier, AlexEmail
Neurophysiology of Conscious Perception

Our research group studies the organization of the visual cortex combining neuroimaging (fMRI) and neurophysiological techniques. The major emphasis of the research is to determine how the brain gives rise to conscious experience through identification and characterization of the neuronal processes that are involved in the establishment of subjective perception. These goals are accomplished by a combination of methods, including: 1) psychophysical examination of illusory stimuli that give rise or prevent the establishment of visual phenomena; 2) functional magnetic resonance imaging with microscopic resolution using high-field (4.7T) scanners; 3) neurophysiological recordings of neurons in all six layers of the neocortex.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Marois, ReneEmail
Cognitive Human Visual Neuroscience

Research in the lab centers on the neural basis of attention and information processing in the human brain using fMRI and psychophysical tools. We are particularly interested in understanding the neural basis of attentional capacity limits (e.g. Why can we only attend to very few objects at a time? Why can’t we select or execute more than one task at a time?). We are also interested in understanding the relationships between attention, working memory, and awareness.
McCawley, LisaEmail
Understanding How Changes in Cell Populations Influence Wound Repair and Tumor Progression

Dr. McCawley is a Research Associate Professor in the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Cancer Biology at Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN and a faculty fellow of the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Biosystems Research and Education (VIIBRE). Dr. McCawley received her Ph.D. in 1998 with an emphasis in Pharmacology/Toxicology from Northwestern University, Chicago IL. Her background is in the area of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) and how they regulate cellular processes that contribute to tissue remodeling processes. Current research is directed towards understanding how changes in cell populations and other factors of the tissue microenvironment (ie., oxygenation state, pH and matrix composition) influence wound repair and tumor progression. With her engineering collaborations in VIIBRE, she is developing and applying BioMEMS to interrogate the biophysical and biochemical processes governing cellular migration, transendothelial migration and tissue invasion. She is developing bioreactors to reconstitute tissue using cellular populations (i.e., immune cells, endothelial cells, fibroblasts, normal and/or tumorigenic epithelial/epidermal cells) and/or maintain tissue biopsies under normal (physiological) and/or diseased (pathological) conditions. She is continuing the development of Organ-on-a-Chip style microfluidic bioreactors targeting three-dimensional cell cultures in the areas of mammary development and response to environmental toxins; breast tumorigenesis and response to therapy in complex microenvironments; and the blood brain barrier.
Mchaourab, HassaneEmail
Dynamic Dimension of Protein Structures

Dynamics represent the fourth dimension linking protein structures to mechanisms. Proteins have parts that gate, bend, twist or catalyze a given reaction. These dynamic transitions take place on time scales ranging from picosecond side chain rotameric equilibria to millisecond rearrangements in cooperative protein complexes. Despite spectacular recent progress, the study of dynamics of membrane proteins and macromolecular complexes remain an immature area of research.

The main experimental focus in my laboratory is to understand the dynamic dimension of protein structures. We have developed and applied spectroscopic approaches based on paramagnetic or fluorescent reporter groups to characterize the collective functional or regulatory motion of protein secondary structures and domains. Highlights of our work include describing protein motion that coupling ATP hydrolysis to substrate translocation by transporters, hinge motion in T4 Lysozme, and single molecule detection of domain movement.

We use spin labeling with EPR spectroscopy as our major experimental tool to describe protein dynamics in energy transduction systems for signaling, energy conversion systems for transport, and stability sensors for conformational editing. We seek to define the energy transduction events converting various stimuli into protein motion and to determine the structure of end point states. Spin labeling also allows analysis of well-defined biochemical intermediates in native-like environments without the conformational selectivity imposed by lattice forces.

Current topics of interests include:

Molecular aspects of protein aggregation in aging and disease: Structure and function of heat shock proteins, structure of amyloids.

Multidrug resistance in cancer and infectious diseases: Structural basis of substrate recognition and translocation for the bacterial lipid flippase MsbA, human multidrug resistance protein (p-glycoprotein) and the bacterial multidrug transporter EmrE.

Neurotransmitter transporters: Dissection of the transport cycle for bacterial homologs of the dopamine and serotonin transporters in collaboration with the Jonathan Javitch lab at Columbia University.

CamKII Kinase: Structural basis of regulation and motifs of protein-protein interactions in collaboration with the Roger Colbran Lab at Vanderbilt University.
McMahon, Douglas G.Email
Daily Biological Clocks

The two primary interests of my laboratory are in understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of the daily biological clock and the adaptation of retinal circuitry to different levels of light and darkness. To this end we are applying a variety of modern neurobiological techniques including patch clamp electrophysiological recording from neurons and brain slices, biochemical analysis of modulatory signals, real-time fluorescent imaging of gene expression dynamics in living neural tissue, cloning and heterologous expression of synaptic ion channel genes and production of transgenic mice with novel gene reporter constructs. Our goal is to combine neurophysiological and molecular genetic approaches to understand the visual and circadian systems of the brain.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Meiler, JensEmail
Computational Biology in Neuroscience

The Meiler lab pioneers the application of computational methods in neuroscience. Specifically, we engage computational structural biology to construct three-dimensional models of membrane proteins central in neuronal signaling such as voltage-gated potassium channels (Biochemistry; 2007; Vol. 46 (49): p. 14141-52), metabotropic glutamate receptors (Science; 2014; Vol. 344 (6179): p. 58-64), and serotonin transporter (Proteins; 2009; Vol. 74 (3): p. 630-42). We leverage these models to understand disease mutations and explore therapeutic strategies including computer-aided drug discovery. Specifically, we investigate Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease, work to understand the structural determinants of antidepressant binding to neurotransmitter transporters, or study cardiac arrhythmia as caused by the complex interplay of potassium channel regulation and drug interactions.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Murphy, BarbaraEmail
Dr. Murphy studies neurotoxicity related side effects of head and neck cancer patients.
Muscatello, RachaelEmailDr. Muscatello’s research program aims to examine the interrelation between multiple physiological stress systems, including the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and autonomic nervous system. A key focus of her research has been to identify unique physiological response profiles as markers of risk for internalizing comorbidities in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) using multiple methods for assessing psychosocial functioning, including behavioral observation, neuropsychological measures, biological markers of physiological regulation and reactivity such as heart rate variability and salivary cortisol, as well as parent- and self-report. For individuals with autism spectrum disorder, a combination of psychological stress in social interactions and dysregulated physiological regulation and responsivity may partially contribute to elevated rates of psychiatric comorbidities in this population. As such, identifying dysregulated physiology as a contributor to development of internalizing symptoms in youth with ASD may inform systems for determination of high-risk individuals and therefore, promote earlier, targeted intervention and improved quality of life for those at greatest risk.
Nam, Young-JaeEmail
Reprogramming Cardiac Cell Fates: New Paradigm for Heart Repair and Regeneration

A fundamental, but unsolved problem in heart diseases is irreversible loss of cardiomyocytes that is replaced by fibrotic scar in response to injury. Therefore, to convert cardiac fibroblasts, the most abundant cell type in the heart, into cardiomyocytes after injury is a particularly attractive heart repair strategy. Over the last four years, we have taken three fundamental steps toward this goal: 1) in vitro reprogramming of adult mouse fibroblasts into beating cardiomyocytes by forced expression of four transcription factors, 2) developing in vivo reprogramming strategy targeting activated cardiac fibroblasts after myocardial infarction, which improved heart function and reduced scar formation, and 3) identifying the optimal combination of factors that is necessary and sufficient to induce a contractile phenotype in adult human fibroblasts.

There are three major types of cardiomyocytes in the heart as defined by anatomical location and unique electrical properties: atrial, ventricular, and pacemaker. Highly coordinated activity of all three cardiac subtypes is required for effective blood pumping. Thus, significant loss or dysfunction of individual cardiac subtypes can lead to specific forms of potentially life-threatening heart disease depending upon the identity of the affected cell type. However, all current heart repair strategies have been focused on regeneration of heart muscle without subtype specification. The inability to specify subtype of cardiomyocytes has been a main barrier to clinical application of newly generated muscle cells derived from either differentiation or reprogramming method. Therefore, an ideal heart repair strategy would be able to selectively generate the right type of heart cells in the right place of the heart depending on the type of heart disease. Thus, our research goals are 1) to develop an entirely new heart repair strategy targeting specific heart disease by generation of individual subtypes of cardiomyocytes including atrial, ventricular, and pacemaker cardiomyocytes and 2) to understand the mechanistic basis of cardiac cell fate specification during direct cardiac reprogramming and pluripotent stem cell differentiation.
Neul, JeffreyEmail
Genetic Neurodevelopmental Disorders, Emphasis on Rett Syndrome

Jeffrey Neul is a physician scientist who focuses on the clinical care, clinical research, and translational research for genetic neurodevelopmental disorders, with an emphasis on Rett syndrome. Rett syndrome is typically caused by mutations in the epigenetic regulator MECP2 and robs affected individuals of their ability to speak and use their hands. The Neul lab uses a combination of modern genetic, molecular, and physiological methods to characterize animal and cellular models of Rett syndrome and related disorders to develop an enhanced understanding of the pathophysiological basis and to develop and test novel therapies.
Newhouse, Paul A.Email
Human Research Studies That Investigate the Biological, Neurochemical, and Brain Circuitry Mechanisms of Cognitive Aging

Cognition includes abilities of attention, learning, and memory, and can be made better or worse by emotion. Cognitive processes involve a variety of brain systems: discrete structures such as the hippocampus and amygdala, neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, and hormones such as estrogen. Cognitive abilities change with aging and our laboratory investigates how alterations in learning and memory may be caused by specific neurobiological changes in the brain due to aging or stressful events.

We are particularly interested in how sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone interact with neurotransmitter systems that are specifically involved in attention and memory including acetylcholine. We are also interested in how sex hormones affect emotion and emotion-regulating structures of the brain such as the amygdala and frontal cortex in older women. Other studies in our laboratory look at how chemotherapy affects cognition and the brain (so-called “chemobrain”) in breast cancer patients and in collaboration with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, we are studying how memory can be treated in adults with Down Syndrome. With better treatment of breast cancer and Down Syndrome patients, individuals are living into older age with a better quality of life.

Our lab uses both short-and long-term hormone and drug administration studies along with cognitive testing and functional brain imaging. Cognitive assessments are completed during neuroimaging at the Vanderbilt University Institute for Imaging Sciences (VUIIS) and outside the scanner at the Vanderbilt Clinical Research Center (CRC).

For more information about our lab and research studies, visit
Niswender, Colleen.Email
Drug Development for Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders

Dr. Niswender is the Director of Molecular Pharmacology for the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery and is involved in many aspects of the drug development process, with a focus on drug development for neurological and psychiatric disorders, particularly schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, Fragile X syndrome and Rett syndrome. With seed funding from a Basic Research Grant from the International Rett Syndrome Foundation, Dr. Niswender and associates have found that metabotropic glutamate receptor 7 (mGlu7) is a direct MeCP2 target that is downregulated in a mouse model of Rett syndrome. They have found that small molecules that increase mGlu7 function can correct deficits in synaptic transmission in Rett syndrome model mice and plan to optimize additional small molecules to enhance mGlu7 activity as a therapeutic strategy for Rett. Dr. Niswender and her team have expanded these studies to include another glutamate receptor, mGlu5,and they have shown that compounds that increase the activity of mGlu5 have a dramatic effect on some of the motor aspects of Rett, such as hindlimb clasping and gait dynamics, in MeCP2 mutant mice. These data have paved the way for an Autism Speaks Treatment award, which will continue to support the group in their efforts to validate new drug targets in Rett syndrome and possibly other Autism Spectrum Disorders. As the VCNDD is currently developing mGlu receptor modulators in conjunction with pharmaceutical companies and the NIH, it is anticipated that their Rett work may be readily translatable to the clinic.
Nobis, WilliamEmail
Dr. Nobis’ research focuses on sudden unexplained death in epilepsy (SUDEP), in particular electrophysiological and targeted functional anatomical evaluation of extended amygdala circuits relation to seizures and respiratory control. He hopes that a translational and basic science approach will be broadly applicable to sudden death via neurologic mechanisms such as SUDEP and SIDS and that these brain regions can be explored in terms of their potential role in comorbid depression and anxiety often seen in epilepsy patients.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
O’Grady, KristinEmail
Dr. O’Grady is interested in translating quantitative MR techniques to the clinic to better understand the pathological changes associated with neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Her research is focused on developing quantitative MR methodologies including CEST, functional MRI, and diffusion MRI for the brain and spinal cord.
Oguz, IpekEmail
Ipek Oguz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Vanderbilt University. She received her Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to joining Vanderbilt, she worked in the Penn Image Computing and Science Laboratory (PICSL) and Center for Biomedical Image Computing and Analytics (CBICA) at the University of Pennsylvania as well as in the Iowa Institute for Biomedical Imaging (IIBI) at the University of Iowa. Her research is in the field of medical image analysis and specifically in the development of novel methodology for quantitative medical image analysis, with applications to neuroimaging, including Huntington’s disease and multiple sclerosis, as well as ophthalmic and obstetric imaging. Her technical interests include graph-based segmentation methods, longitudinal studies and machine learning. She has co-authored more than 50 peer-reviewed journal and conference publications. She is an executive in the Women in MICCAI Committee and a co-chair of IPMI 2017.
Olatunji, BumniEmail
Olatunji’s primary research interest lies in cognitive behavioral theory, assessment, and therapy for anxiety disorders. He is particularly interested in the role of basic emotions other than fear in the etiology of anxiety pathology. His current research employs basic descriptive and experimental psychopathology methodology to examine the relationship between the experience of disgust and specific anxiety disorder symptoms.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Padovani-Claudio, DollyEmail
Dr. Padovani-Claudio’s laboratory is focused on finding new treatments for diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of vision loss and blindness. Due to the growing incidence of obesity and diabetes in the pediatric population an increase in the prevalence of complications associated with diabetic retinopathy is expected. Her research centers on understanding processes that promote inflammation and vascular growth in the retina, and on repurposing existing drugs developed to target these processes in non-ocular systems to prevent, abort or revert them in diabetic retinopathy. She hopes that repurposing such drugs will bypass the costly, lengthy, and risky drug development process and accelerate the translation of her research to effective therapies for patients with blinding conditions.
Palmeri, TomEmail
Computational Neuroscience

We study how people visually categorize, identify, and recognize objects. We examine how objects are processed and represented by the visual system, how visual knowledge about objects is represented and learned, and how perceptual decisions are made. We are particularly interested in the temporal dynamics of visual object recognition, which includes the short-term dynamics of an individual decision about an object and the long-term dynamics of how those decisions change with learning and expertise. We are interested in how the temporal dynamics of behavior are related to the temporal dynamics of neural activity in the brain.

Computational neuroscience is one approach we use to understand these processes. Hypotheses about brain mechanisms are formalized in mathematical and computational models that are simulated on computers. Simulated predictions are compared to observed behavior and neural activity. Competing models about brain mechanisms are assessed by how well or how poorly they predict. Model predictions motivate new behavioral and neural experiments.

Students interested in combining computation and mathematics with neuroscience and psychology might be interested in exploring computational neuroscience as an independent research topic. Students would ideally have had at least one semester of computer programming and one semester of calculus.

Students interested in exploring computational neuroscience might consider the undergraduate minor in Scientific Computing at Vanderbilt. Students in the minor in Scientific Computing are taught techniques for understanding complex physical, biological, and social systems. Students are introduced to computational methods for simulating and analyzing models of complex systems, to scientific visualization and data mining techniques needed to detect structure in massively large multidimensional data sets, to high performance computing techniques for simulating models on computing clusters with hundreds or thousands of parallel, independent processors and for analyzing terabytes or more of data that may be distributed across a massive cloud or grid storage environment.
Park, SoheeEmail
Cognitive and Neurobiological Bases of Major Psychiatric Disorders

We study psychotic disorders and neurological syndromes because we are interested in individual differences in how we perceive, interpret and interact with the world and how these processes may be broken down or enhanced. Our research program lies at the intersection between biological psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience, with developmental and social cognition components. Specifically, we are currently interested in the role of cognitive processes (e.g. working memory and control of mental representations) in social perception and social interactions, and neurocognitive basis of belief. By expanding our understanding of neurobiological bases of psychoses, we hope to further elucidate neural underpinnings of normal cognitive processes.
Patel, SachinEmail
Psychiatric Illness

The goal of our research is to investigate the role of endocannabinoid signaling (eCB) in the pathophysiology of severe psychiatric disorders including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our programs focus is on understanding the developmental, molecular, and synaptic adaptations in eCB that occur in animal models of psychiatric disease. By understanding eCB adaptations that occur during the development of mental illness, we hope to uncover novel molecular targets for drug development. We are also interested in evaluating the effects of novel pharmacological compounds that modulate eCB signaling in models of depression and PTSD. WE utilized a variety of convergent techniques including molecular biology, electrophysiology, and animal behavior to study the role of eCB signaling in psychiatric illness.
Patrick, AnnaEmail
Dr. Patrick’s work focuses on identifying and characterizing pathogenic molecular pathways in juvenile idiopathic arthritis and pediatric autoimmune disease. Her research program employs the study of rare monogenetic mutations associated with disease manifestations to discover novel pathways involved in autoimmunity.
Penn, John S.Email
Molecular and Cellular Characterization of Ocular Angiogenesis (Blindness)

Dr. Penn explores methods of treating and preventing ocular angiogenesis, the leading cause of blindness in developed countries. Angiogenesis is the unregulated growth of new blood vessels from existing blood vessels. Blood vessel proliferation in the eye often leads to retinal detachment and hence blindness. Angiogenesis is a critical pathologic component of such conditions as retinopathy of prematurity, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, vein occlusion retinopathy, sickle cell retinopathy and others.

Using in vitro and in vivo models developed in his laboratory, Dr. Penn is characterizing the process of angiogenesis on the cellular and molecular levels. Through this activity his lab is identifying rational therapeutic targets. The Penn lab is at the leading edge of partnering with industry to develop novel antiangiogenic drugs for application to the eye.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Peters, SarikaEmail
Neurogenetic Disorders

Sarika Peters, BA, Ph.D., is a psychologist whose primary efforts focus on the detailed characterization of neurogenetic disorders. Dr. Peters received her BA from Austin College, and a Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin, in Psychology. She completed her internship in Psychology and her Fellowship in Developmental Disabilities at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center—Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities. She studies Rett Syndrome, and Rett-Related Disorders. She has been involved in the study of MECP2 duplication syndrome since 2006, shortly after its initial discovery in humans. Her research focuses on the clinical, immune, and stress markers for clinical prognosis and disease progression in MECP2 duplication syndrome. She also focuses on tracking clinical severity and the development of higher level cognitive and language functioning in Rett syndrome and related disorders.
Polyn, SeanEmail
Neural, Behavioral, and Computational Approaches to Human Memory

Our lab is interested in the cognitive and neural dynamics of the human memory system, and more specifically, how we use this system to search through our memories of recently learned material. Every day, we store hundreds of new memories; sometimes these memories can be retrieved and examined effortlessly, but sometimes, to our frustration, we find our efforts blocked, and our memories inaccessible. The brain contains sophisticated neural machinery allowing us to target particular memories. How does this machinery work, and why does it fail? We believe in a multi-tiered approach to the study of human memory, combining neurorecording techniques (fMRI and EEG), with behavioral investigations and computational modeling. These multiple levels of analysis inform one another, and allow us to constrain our understanding of human memory.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Ramachandran, Ramnarayan (Ram)Email
Neural Basis of Hearing

We are interested in the question of how we hear and process sounds in noisy, natural environments. These situations are important because they reflect precisely the kinds of circumstances that older people and people with hearing impairment have great difficulty in navigating. And moreover, the ability to hear in noisy environments, which is effortless for people with normal hearing, can not be restored to people with hearing difficulties through hearing aids or cochlear implants. Our initial (current) studies deal with the normative baseline. What is the neuronal basis for being able to hear in noisy environments for normal hearing? We investigate this with a combination of behavior, neurophysiology and computational modeling. We use behavioral methods to measure hearing metrics in quiet environments, and how these metrics are modified in noisy environments. Electrophysiological tools allow us to directly correlate the report of hearing and the hearing metrics with neuronal activity in different parts of the brain. We can then through computational modeling and clever experimental design infer the auditory circuitry that could be involved in the behavior. These experiments that we currently perform can (and will) be extended to other aspects of behavior (such as telling the difference between sounds, telling where or what the sound is, etc.) for us to investigate the mechanisms and circuits underlying them. However, these just form the baseline for our scheduled future studies of hearing after hearing loss, and the ability to hear and process sounds in natural, noisy environments. Our long-term goal is to design assistive-hearing devices that can function equally well in noisy or quiet environments based on the results that we obtain.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Rex, ToniaEmail
Neuroprotective Therapies for Glaucoma and Ocular Trauma

The Rex laboratory uses recombinant adeno-associated viruses to deliver mutated forms of erythropoietin (EPO) developed in her laboratory into animal models of Glaucoma and ocular neurotrauma. Her laboratory identified forms of EPO that are neuroprotective and do not induce a rise in red blood cell count, thus making them safer for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. She has shown great efficacy with pre-treatment in a mouse model of Glaucoma and is now investigating the efficacy of delayed therapy and long-term outcomes, as well as investigating the mechanism of action. Dr. Rex also developed a model of ocular trauma that mimics injuries incurred by exposure to an explosive device. Her laboratory is investigating the mechanism of cell death in this model as well as using gene therapy to treat or prevent the subsequent neurodegeneration.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Robinson, RenãEmail
RASR Laboratory uses state-of-the art proteomics and mass spectrometry technology to further our understanding of aging and age-related diseases.

We are particularly interested in aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and sepsis and the role of the periphery. We are excited to use our technology to understand the molecular basis of racial and ethnic disparities in aging, Alzheimer’s disease, and sepsis. Our health applications require high-throughput analytical methodology and to that end, we specialize in developing novel proteomics approaches involving mass spectrometry that are useful for analyzing complex biological tissues, increasing sample multiplexing capability, and studying oxidative post-translational modifications. We are also working on high-throughput lipidomics methods using mass spectrometry for human bodily fluids.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Roden, Dan M.Email
Ion Channel Biology and Personalized Medicine

Ion channels are the fundamental units determining excitability in tissues such as heart, skeletal muscle, and brain. Research in the Roden laboratory has focused on drug block of ion channels and how this might be therapeutic (or detrimental) in heart disease. Work in the lab focuses on two broad areas: (1) studies of physiology and pharmacology of ion channels and other proteins determining excitability in heterologous systems, and in zebrafish and mice. The questions center on mechanisms of arrhythmia susceptibility and variable responses to drugs, as well as on novel roles of ion channel proteins during development. (2) The broad areas of genomics and pharmacogenomics. Dr. Roden is Principal Investigator on the Vanderbilt DNA databank, a very large DNA repository linked to electronic medical records. The resource is a tool for discovery and for studies examining how to apply genomic information to the bedside.
Rook, JerriEmail
Dr. Rook is a highly trained behavioral and systems neuropharmacologist who has a great deal of expertise with the use of biochemistry, molecular biology, behavioral pharmacology and imaging techniques to study the in vivo effects of GPCR ligands in preclinical animal models. She has made a number of contributions to the understanding of the roles of mGlu5 in the regulation of brain function and behavior and in the development of novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of central nervous system disorders. Currently, Dr. Rook is focused on the discovery of novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of cognitive deficits associated with schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Romero, DanielEmailThe overarching goal of my research is to further our understanding of vestibular physiology, pathophysiology, and perception while improving the assessment of vestibular disorders across the lifespan. Specifically, my research focuses implementing objective detection algorithms to improve detection of vestibular evoked potentials. These efforts inform a programmatic line of research that will help audiologists better serve those with dizziness and balance disorders

For more information, visit the lab website.
Rosenthal, SandraEmail
In the Rosenthal group we study semiconductor nanocrystals, a unique material whose optical properties and electronic structure can be precisely tuned by controlling the size of the nanocrystal. In addition to developing new nanomaterials and conducting fundamental studies to understand the relationship between atomic structure and optoelectronic properties, we are specifically interested in two applications exploiting the properties of nanocrystals. The first is the use of fluorescent nanocrystals as biological probes for membrane proteins involved in neuronal signaling in order to elucidate molecular mechanisms in mental illness. In the second application we are exploring the possible use of nanocrystals as a white light emitter for implementation in solid state lighting.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Saylor, MeganEmail
How Children Learn About Language and the Mind

Dr. Saylor’s research focuses on how children learn about language and the mind. In recent studies she has focused on the intersection between language and representation. In particular, she asks how weak versus strong representations affect language comprehension during infancy. In other research she asks how infants and children use information about others’ minds (what they know and want) to figure out what they mean when they use novel words or ask for absent things. In other research she studies what adults and preschoolers understand about the minds of computers and robots.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Schlesinger, Joseph J.Email
Multisensory Integration

Dr. Schlesinger’s research focuses on multisensory integration and clinician response to alarms and patient comorbidities of noise in the ICU. His research aims include development of safe and effective patient monitoring and alarm systems.

***Students are expected to be involved in study design, IRB submission, data acquisition, data analysis, writing, revising, publishing, and presenting. As this naturally will take more than one year, students who are interested in joining the lab should reach out as early in the college career as possible. Scientific writing takes time, and therefore, second-semester juniors and seniors, for instance, would not be able to meet the time commitment.
Schrag, MatthewEmail
Advanced neuropathology and molecular mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease and cerebral amyloid angiopathy

The bulk of our work in the SchragLab is basic science related to identifying shared molecular mechanisms between cerebral amyloid angiopathy and Alzheimer’s disease. We study post-mortem human tissue with advanced microscopy techniques including CLARITY to understand changes in the vascular network associated cerebrovascular degeneration and neurodegeneration. We also work with basic cell biology and enzymology techniques to understand the function of novel Alzheimer’s disease risk genes. We have access to large human and animal datasets to assess functional phenotypes of genes of interest and conduct behavioral analysis in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and cerebral amyloid angiopathy. For students with clinical interests, we also have a small portfolio of clinical research projects related to cerebral amyloid angiopathy, intracerebral hemorrhage and stroke.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Seiffert, Adriane E.Email
Attention to Moving Objects

Seiffert explores how people see and direct their attention to moving objects. The ability to follow the movement of objects is an important skill for many activities, such as driving through a busy intersection. Seiffert investigates research questions such as: How does attention tract object movement? What is the nueral implementation of this process? Why do errors in tracking occur? How is attention involved when people control the motion of objects? The long-term objective of this work is to understand how visual attention interacts with motion perception and visuo-motor systems to track the motion of target objects. The methods of investigation include human psychophysics, cognitive experiments and human neuroimaging (fMRI). Funding comes from the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Shannon, ChevisEmail
Dr. Shannon has 17 years of clinical research experience including the development and management of multi-center multidisciplinary clinical trials and clinical research. She is a funded investigator in the Hydrocephalus Clinical Research Network, a co-investigator for the Vanderbilt site, and the co-chair of the quality of life working group for the Park-Reeves Syringomyelia Consortium (PRSC). Additionally, Dr. Shannon is the lead investigator in the development of the Chiari Health Index for Pediatrics (CHIP), the first disease-specific patient-centered outcome for CM+SM in children. This instrument has been validated and is the focus of a funded PCORI grant aim, where she also serves as the Co-PI. In her role as Bench-to-Bedside Research Co-Director for the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, she supports and mentors students through their research block. She is the Director of the Surgical Outcomes Center for Kids (SOCKs), a multidisciplinary research infrastructure established to enable and enhance collaborative clinical research within the pediatric surgical subspecialties at the Monroe Carell Jr Children’s Hospital. In her role, she works with surgeon-scientists to develop outcomes and quality-focused research agendas, in addition to being a research mentor to over 25 trainees including residents and clinical fellows.

For more information, please visit the SOCKs website.
Shieh, Bih-HwaEmail
Regulation of G-protein Coupled Signal Transduction by Scaffolding Proteins

My laboratory is interested in understanding function and regulation of scaffolding proteins in signal transduction. Scaffolding proteins consists of multiple protein-protein interaction motifs and acts by tethering multiple components of a signaling pathway leading to formation of a signal transduction complex. This clustering of signaling molecules may regulate specificity of signaling events. Moreover, it may facilitate protein-protein interaction for fast activation and deactivation of signaling processes. One of the prototypical scaffolding protein is INAD that is essential for visual transduction in Drosophila. Visual transduction is the process that converts the signal of light into a change of membrane potential of photoreceptors. It is a G-protein coupled phospholipase C?-mediated mechanism leading to opening of two cation channels, TRP and TRPL. In the visual cascade, light turns on rhodopsin which activates a Gq. Activated Gq?-subunit switches on a phospholipase C? (NORPA) resulting in breakdown of phospholipids to generate diacylglycerol (DAG) and inositol trisphosphate. DAG is a potent activator of protein kinase C (PKC) that exerts a negative regulation of the visual transduction.

We study how INAD regulates visual transduction. INAD contains five distinct PDZ domains. PDZ domains are protein-protein interaction domains of 90 amino acids in length and are present in many proteins involved in localization and anchoring of signaling molecules. In Drosophila visual cascade, we and others have demonstrated that INAD interacts with three key proteins including the TRP calcium channel, phospholipase C? and eye-PKC. Our current investigation focuses on function of the signaling complex in visual transduction. We employ a combined analysis of molecular biological, biochemical, electrophysiological and genetics methodologies. Insight into how INAD coordinates visual transduction will help gain understanding into regulation of signal transduction by scaffolding proteins.
Siciliano, CodyEmail
We develop animal models and leverage sophisticated technologies to elucidate the neural basis of motivation and maladaptive decision making.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Simerly, RichardEmail
We study how environmental factors, such as nutrition and hormones, impact the development of neural circuits that control behavior and metabolism, in order to better understand how early events in an individual’s life influence behavior and metabolic physiology. We discovered that the fat-derived hormone leptin is a major developmental signal that participates in metabolic programming of the hypothalamus. Using genetically targeted fluorescent labels, and both in vitro and in vivo conditional regulation of gene expression, we are determining if manipulations of genes known to participate in brain development also influence development of leptin-sensitive pathways that mediate hypothalamic responses to changes in energy balance. In addition to histochemistry, confocal microscopy and image analysis, we use light sheet microscopy to visualize large tissue volumes, and in vivo calcium imaging to record network activity. This approach allows us to interrogate the functional significance of metabolically programmed changes in neural architecture, with direct implications for understanding the developmental origins of obesity and diabetes.
Smith, SethEmail
Developing and Deploying Advanced, Quantitative MRI Methods to Study Diseases of the Central Nervous System

My current research focuses on the developing and deploying advanced, quantitative MRI methods to study diseases of the central nervous system. Specifically, we are focused on developing novel imaging tools to study some of the underrepresented nervous system structures of the human body such as the spinal cord and optic nerve and implement these tools in a clinically relevant fashion. Most recently, we have focused our MRI developments on the study of multiple sclerosis to answer questions about the earliest manifestation of the disease, mechanism for disease evolution and biomarkers for therapeutic intervention. We currently have three main funded projects and two exploratory projects:

Funded Projects:
1. Developing 7T MRI to understand the relationship between GM myelination and neurochemical aberrations in the brains of patients with MS to neurocognitive impairment
2. Development and implementation of novel Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), Quantitative Magnetization Transfer (qMT), Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer (CEST), and morphometric assessments in the optic nerve of patients with optic neuritis who are at risk for developing MS
3. Development of qMT and CEST imaging of the spinal cord in patients with MS and known spinal cord involvement

Exploratory Projects:
1. Development of novel MRI methods to study the human spinal cord at 7T which include: resting state fMRI, CEST, MT, and ultra-high resolution structural imaging.
2. Development of clinically feasible DTI and qMT methods for direct implementation in the clinic for patients with acute traumatic spinal cord injury.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Sriram, SubramaniamEmail
Neuroimmunology, Neuroinfectious Disease, and Signalling in Microglial Cells

Our laboratory has an overall interests in the understanding the neural immune interactions of CNS inflammatory and demyelinating disease. Our hypotheses is that in most demyelinating diseses activation of microglia is a key element that precedes demyelination hence understanding factors that activate microglial cells will be crucial in the process. We have the following projects in progress:

1. Defining the activation signals of IL-3 and CD40 pathway in microglial activation.
2. Using experimental allergic encephalitis defining novel anti-inflammatory compunds direcrted at inhibiting the CD40 signalling pathway.
3. Understanding the role of chlmydia pneumoniae as a key trigger to the development of demyelination in human multiple sclerosis.
Suver, MarieEmail
The Suver lab studies mechanisms of active sensing in Drosophila to understand how nervous systems predict and learn about the world. We use a broad range of tools, including electrophysiology, 2-photon imaging, genetics, and quantitative behavior.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Taylor, WarrenEmailDr. Taylor’s research interest is to elucidate the neurobiological factors contributing to depression across the adult lifespan and how these factors may influence antidepressant treatment outcomes.

This work combines neuroimaging methodologies with clinical data, genetic assays and measures of peripheral biomarkers with the goal of identifying clinically relevant yet biologically defined groups within the broader heterogeneous diagnosis of depression. Much of this work has focused on the interface between vascular disease and depression in older populations. His lab has examined how cerebrovascular ischemia may damage neural circuits involved in mood regulation, how this injury may contribute to the development of depression, and what genetic factors may influence the development of this ischemia.

Specific areas of interest include: 1) neurogenetic studies, examining genetic contributions to brain structure and function that may have a particular relevance to depression; 2) research examining how vascular disease or treatment of vascular disease may influence course of depression; 3) the interface between depression and cognitive changes with aging, in particular examining how interventions targeting cognition may benefit individuals with depression.
Thayer, WesleyEmail
Translational Research to Improve Outcomes After Injury

My lab focuses on translational research including wounds, hand surgery, and nerve repair strategies to improve outcomes after injury. We have published multiple peer reviewed publications focusing on these techniques. Our Lab is funded through a collaborative DOD grant with AxogenTM Corporation. Our most recent grant includes industry funding to studying bio scaffolds for use as a nerve scaffold. We are also playing a role in the advancement of techniques to enhance recovery of acutely injured nerves including axonal outgrowth augmentation strategies and axonal fusion strategies. In our animal models, we are able to assess interventions ability to foster improvement and optimize those strategies that may translatable to clinical application. Our treatment strategies have applications for trauma patients, oncology patients, and in composite tissue transplantation. At present I am motivated to participate in both bench and clinical research. To that end, I direct the Vanderbilt arm of the Multicenter Retrospective Study of Avance™ Nerve Graft Utilization, Evaluations and Outcomes in Peripheral Nerve Injury Repair, or RANGER study and completed a trial for evaluation of Xiaflex™ in treatment of Dupuytren’s contractures. Our most recent human trial involves using MRI based diffusion tensor tractography to evaluate individual axonal recovery after human nerve injury. We have built an infrastructure at Vanderbilt University Medical Center to efficiently and accurately assess strategies to augment nerve repair at the cellular level with our in vitro models, at the surgical level with our animal models, and translate these strategies to the clinic via IRB approved clinical trials.
Tiriac, AlexandreEmail
During development, neurons create, refine, and ultimately establish a network of circuits that enable complex behaviors. This process relies on patterned spontaneous activity, which is most prevalent early in development and typically dissipates by the onset of environmentally evoked sensory activity. Crucially, disrupted spontaneous activity during development can result in permanent neural circuit defects, potentially contributing to numerous neurodevelopmental disorders. The Tiriac laboratory thus aims to understand how spontaneous activity across distinct modalities mediates the development of sensory and motor systems that organisms use to engage with their surroundings.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Tong, FrankEmail
Neural Bases of Human Visual Perception and Cognition

Frank Tong studies the neural bases of visual perception, recognition, attention, awareness and working memory, by using behavioral and human neuroimaging techniques. He is especially interested in the problems of brain reading and mind reading, that is, whether measures of a person’s brain activity can be used to readout a person’s visual thoughts. The overall goal of this research is to understand how visual representations in different brain areas mediate people’s abiity to consciously perceive and recognize basic visual features and complex objects.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Vago, DavidEmailDavid’s research interests broadly focus on utilizing translational models to identify and characterize neurobiological and psychosocial mechanisms underlying adaptive mind-brain-body interactions and their therapeutic relevance in the context of mental health and chronic pain. Through mixed methods of neuroimaging, predictive computational modeling, neuroendocrine biomarker identification, cognitive-behavioral and first-person phenomenological analyses, Dr. Vago helps facilitate a multi-pronged research program in basic science, clinical trials, education, and innovation.

A number of research initiatives that are ongoing, include Mapping the Meditative Mind, in which the Dr. Vago has partnered with contemporary meditation teachers and scholars to investigate psychosocial and neurobiological mechanisms supporting states of meditation across the spectrum of formal meditative expertise. Another initiative aims to identify mechanisms of engagement, identify predictors for clinical outcomes, and optimize mindfulness-based treatment interventions. Dr. Vago has also partnered with Roundglass to facilitate research pipelines in well-being industry.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Van Kaer, LucEmail
Our research is broadly focused on interactions between the immune and metabolic systems, an emerging field referred to as immunometabolism (see immunometabolism figure below). We have a long-standing interest in the immunological functions of innate and innate-like lymphocytes, and we have investigated the contributions of subsets of innate-like lymphocytes to the development of obesity-associated metabolic diseases. A more recent research direction is the role of autophagy, a cellular self-eating process induced by starvation and other types of stress, in the development and function of distinct immune cells, and in the generation of metabolic disease. The long-term goal of these studies is to manipulate immune and metabolic pathways for the development of new therapies for human disease.

Dr. Van Kaer’s research focuses on immune cells and autophagy.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Vinci-Booher, SophiaEmailSophia Vinci-Booher is an Assistant Professor of Educational Neuroscience in the Department of Psychology and Human Development. Her research aims to understand how the interplay between action and perception is related to human learning and, more specifically, how the brain mediates that relationship throughout the lifespan. She uses written communication tasks, such as handwriting and drawing, to uncover the neural mechanisms by which the action-perception process facilitates the learning of foundational literacy skills in early childhood and affects longer-term educational outcomes. She employs a variety of methods in her research program, including several MRI-based neuroimaging techniques, training paradigms, and behavioral assessments.
Wallace, Mark T.Email
Neural Bases of Multisensory Processing and its Behavioral and Perceptual Correlates

Our lab is interested in better understanding how the brain synthesizes information from multiple sensory systems (e.g., vision, hearing, touch). Given that we are continually bombarded with sensory information, it seems intuitively obvious that one important brain function is to synthesize this multisensory information. Such multisensory integration enhances our ability to react to external events, as well as enriching our perception of those events and the world around us. Nonetheless, despite the ubiquity and utility of multisensory processes, surprisingly little is known about their neural bases, in striking contrast to what is known about the individual sensory systems that contribute to them. Using a multidisciplinary approach, our lab seeks to fill this knowledge gap. A sampling of the techniques in use in the lab includes: animal behavior, neurophysiological recordings from single neurons and neuronal ensembles, neuroanatomical tract tracing, human psychophysics, ERPs and fMRI. Currently, we are pursuing a number of questions related to multisensory processes. These include: (1) the development of cortical multisensory circuits, (2) developmental and adult plasticity in these circuits, (3) how multisensory signals are transformed into appropriate motor commands, (4) multisensory influences on normal human perception and performance, (5) the impact of perceptual training on multisensory perceptions, and(6) how multisensory processing is impacted in neurodevelopmental disabilities such as autism and dyslexia.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Watson, DuaneEmail
Duane Watson’s research focuses on the cognitive processes that underlie interactions between speakers and listeners. In particular, he focuses on how gesture, pitch, rhythm and emphasis in speech facilitate communication. He also explores how individual differences in cognitive abilities and literacy influence language production, comprehension, and reading.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Wikswo, John P.Email
Measurement and Modeling of the Electric and Magnetic Fields Associated with Bioelectric Activity in Animals and Humans

The overall objective of my research is to utilize electromagnetic theory and measurements to study the production, measurement, modeling, and interpretation of the electric and magnetic fields produced by bioelectric current sources in conducting media. There are several common threads through my research program: magnetometry, electromagnetic theory, electrophysiology, and the mathematical modeling of experimental data. A secondary objective is to apply what we have learned from this work to the analysis of the electric and magnetic properties of non-biological systems.

We are using isolated tissue and whole-animal preparations to obtain a detailed understanding of the relationship between the electric and magnetic fields from bioelectric currents could best be obtained by examining isolated electrophysiological preparations. My colleagues and I made the first measurements of the magnetic field of an isolated nerve bundle, a single nerve axon, and a single muscle fiber. We have extended our measurements to single nerve axons, skeletal muscle, and cardiac tissue preparations with the goal of elucidating the factors that govern the propagation of activation in multicellular systems. Our high resolution SQUID microscopes currently under development will be used to measure both steady and time-varying current flows in two and three-dimensional systems, and we are exploring how this system might be used to study epilepsy, cardiac arrhythmias, and growth currents.

While we are not presently conducting any studies in neuroscience, our work on optical imaging of action potentials and magnetic imaging of action potentials and magnetic imaging of action, development, and injury currents provides an excellent opportunity for fruitful collaborations with biologists and other neuroscientists. If you want to do a measurement unlike any others done at Vanderbilt, give us a call!

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Williams Roberson, ShawniquaEmail
Our team uses signal processing techniques to study the neurophysiological correlates of consciousness and cognition in humans. Our current focus relates to the characterization of dysfunctional activity patterns in ICU delirium and their value in predicting post-ICU neurocognitive impairments in memory, visuospatial processing, emotional regulation and attention. Insights gained from these studies will guide development of neurophysiology-based therapies to entrain healthy recovery.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Winder, Danny G.Email
Molecular Mechanisms of Regulation of Glutamatergic Transmission

Glutamatergic synaptic transmission is the primary means of fast excitatory neural communication in the brain and modulation of this transmission serves an important role in brain function. For example, long-term potentiation (LTP), a persistent modification of synaptic transmission elicited by brief high frequency stimulation of the synapse, has been postulated to play roles in memory storage. LTP is an appealing candidate for a cellular substrate for memory storage in part because, like memory, it is a lasting change to a transient stimulus. Another brain function that potentially involves a similar lasting change in response to a transient stimulus is the transition from the recreational drug use to addiction. Studies have suggested that just as the hippocampus is a key structure for some forms of memory storage, the nucelus accumbens plays an important role in the establishment of addiction. In addition, glutamatergic synapses in both of these structures can undergo LTP. Thus, research in my lab is directed toward determining how glutamatergic transmission can be modulated in these structures, and the signal transduction cascades utilized. To accompoish this, we employ a variety of electrophysiological and biochemical techniques in brain slices. Through the use of regulatable systems to overexpress transgenes that interfere with LTP in mouse nucleus accumbens, studies are also planned to address the roles of modulation of glutamatergic transmission in processes such as memory storage and drug addiction.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Woodman, GeoffEmail
Visual Attention and Visual Working Memory

The goal of much of the research in the Woodman Lab is to understand the interactions between attention and memory by recording event-related potentials noninvasively from the scalps of participants in addition to collecting behavioral responses while observers perform tasks that are similar to simple video games. Many of the experiments in the lab study cognitive processing during two types of tasks. One is visual search, a task like looking for your keys on the ground. The second type are memory tasks, typically remembered a set of objects for a very short period. We use these simple tasks to understand how we learn to attend to certain objects in our environment and how we learn to store certain things in memory.

When we process information in these tasks, such as remembering events or objects, our brains generate very small electrical potentials that can be recorded with sensors placed near the scalp. Analyses of event-related potentials (ERPs) evoked by specific stimuli or cognitive operations have been crucial in the study of perception, memory, attention, language comprehension and production, decision-making, cognitive control, sleep states, and many clinical disorders.
Woynaroski, TiffanyEmail
Woynaroski Lab: Biobehavioral Approaches in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (BAND)

Motivated by previous clinical experiences as a behavior consultant and speech language pathologist, Dr. Woynaroski is working to develop an independent, programmatic line of interdisciplinary research that identifies brain and behavior factors that (a) explain heterogeneity in language and communication ability, (b) predict growth and response to treatment, and (c) evaluate how/why treatment works in young children with autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disabilities.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
York, JohnEmail
Cellular Signaling Networks

The York laboratory studies cellular signaling networks and we have defined an evolutionarily conserved intracellular code required for the proper adaptation of cells and development of organisms. We define this collectively as an inositol phosphate (IP) code, and our work has helped to understand fundamental basic science questions in biology related to how cells enhance signaling specificity through generation of diverse chemical messengers. Recently our studies of a structurally conserved family of Lithium-inhibited enzymes, including inositol phosphatases, has led us to define a role for sulfur assimilation pathways in the regulation of bone formation, iron transport, and protein translation. We observe that defects in compartment specific sulfur assimilation pathways lead to disease states including: chondrodysplasia (dwarfism), anasarca (whole-body edema), and iron-deficiency anemia.
Zhou, ChengwenEmail
Dr. Zhou’s interests in basic neuroscience and translational medicine focus upon how neuronal activity within the whole brain circuits (both cortical and subcortical circuits on microscopic, mesoscopic and macroscopic levels) interacts to generate collective/emerging brain functions such as memory consolidation and brain disorders such as seizures and cognitive co-morbidity deficits. Particularly he is working on how brain sleep-states intermingle with seizure onset. Using electrophysiological recordings, optogenetic methods, and transgenic mice with GABAergic receptor mutations, he studies intrinsic neuron activity properties, activity-dependent synaptic plasticity in cortical neurons from mouse models for pathogenesis of idiopathic generalized epilepsy (IGE), and explores how epilepsy disorders and memory deficits are generated/evolved. This will lead to developing novel medicines for treating seizures and other cognitive co-morbidities. Recently his research extends to sleep-related activity’s roles in pathophysiology and pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease, using a homeostatic synaptic plasticity mechanism.

For more information, please visit the lab website.
Zuckerman, ScottEmail
The Vanderbilt Spine Care Quality and Outcomes Lab studies patients with disorders of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine and how surgical and non-surgical treatment impacts care. Spine disorders include degeneratie spine disease, spine trauma, spine tumors, and spinal deformity. The lab conducts clinical research in all areas of spinal health and is lead by both research faculty and several spine surgeons. Participation in the lab is a great experience for patients interested in applying to medical school. Responsibilities include data collection, calling patients, enrolling patients into prospective studies, data analysis, and manuscript preparation. The internal Vanderbilt registry has follow-up on over 1,000 patients who have undergone spine surgery, with quality of life measures before and after surgery. We are looking for students interested in spending 2 semesters with us for a minimum of 10 hrs/week commitment. Experience with research and statistical analysis is helpful but not required.

For more information, please visit the lab website.