Whats New ...

Dr. Julie Lauterborn receives NIH R21 grant to study synaptic defects in Down Syndrome (DS).

Associate Researcher Dr. Julie Lauterborn has received an R21 grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development to identify disturbances in synaptic proteins in DS. People with DS have mild-to-moderate intellectual disability and are predetermined to develop Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Lauterborn and colleague Dr. Christine Gall will test the hypothesis that in DS there are disturbances in Rho GTPase pathway proteins that are essential for synaptic function and plasticity. These studies will evaluate human postmortem tissue using Fluorescent Deconvolution Tomography, developed by UCI professor Dr. Gary Lynch, to define core synaptic defects associated with DS versus those that rise with aging and Alzheimer’s Disease pathology. Studies will also test how well a commonly used mouse model of DS replicates synaptic defects in the human condition. Findings could benefit efforts to devise treatments to improve cognitive function in DS and other intellectual disability disorders.

Department members co-organize premiere Neurobiology of Stress conference

Talllie Z. Baram and Julie C. Lauterborn, together with other members of the local organizing committee, will spearhead a state-of the art Neurobiology conference in April 2016. The conference will bring together local, national and international luminaries and highlight novel methodologies and advances in the field of the Neurobiology of Stress.  The workshop will have ample discussion, networking and presentation opportunities for students and junior faculty.
 For information:  http://www.stress2016.org/

Professor Gary Lynch testifies to the U.S. Congress on advances in contemporary brain research.

On July 9th 2015, Dr. Gary Lynch testified to Congress in a briefing entitled “Mysteries of the Brain: Frontiers in Neuroscience” that was hosted by Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA), and National Science Foundation, Society for Neuroscience, and the Optical Society.  Dr. Lynch was one of three scientists whose work was featured in the briefing.  He spoke on advances in understanding brain mechanisms of memory formation and how those advances have lead to a better understanding of how cognitive deficits may arise and be treated.  A video of the briefing can be viewed on the National Science Foundation Website (http://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.jsp?med_id=78949).

Dr. Lynch is Professor (above scale) in the Departments of Anatomy and Neurobiology and of Psychiatry and Human Behavior.

Dr. Xiangmin Xu receives NIH grant to cortical interneuron connectivity.

Congratulations to Associate Professor, Dr. Xiangmin Xu on receiving an NIH R01 grant to study the “Inhibitory neuron circuit organization and function of prefrontal cortex”. Dysfunction of cortical interneurons has been implicated as a major factor in many brain disorders including autism and schizophrenia. In collaboration with Co-principal investigator Dr. Peyman Golsani (UCLA), Dr. Xu will test the hypothesis that the specific connectivity of different types of inhibitory cortical interneurons governs computationally distinct neural signal transformations in the medial prefrontal cortex. The research will use cutting-edge a modified rabies virus-based tracing and optogenetic stimulation to map local and long-range inputs to identified cells types. Studies will shed light on how inhibitory neuronal circuits regulate normal and maladaptive behaviors linked to neuropsychiatric and neurological diseases.

Dr. Daniele Piomelli Appointed Editor-in-Chief of the new journal, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research

Professor Piomelli is a world leader in research on mechanisms of lipid-based signaling and brain. This has included identification of the pathways involved in the formation and breakdown of endogenous cannabindoid substances in brain. He will now add to his list of accomplishments the launching of the new Journal “Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research” to be published by Mary Ann Leibert, publishers. As noted by Dr. Piomelli, "Researchers who work on the many different aspects covered by cannabinoid biology and medicine previously did not have a journal that they can call their own; Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research will be that journal."

In addition to being Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Dr. Piomelli serves as the Louise Turner Arnold Chair in Neurosciences and has joint appointments in the Departments of Neurobiology, Pharmacology, and Biological Chemistry at University of California, Irvine. He is also founding director of the unit of drug discovery and development (D3) at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, Italy.

David Lyon receives NIH grant to study visual processing

Dr. Lyon received a $1,000,000, four year grant from the National Eye Institute, to investigate the role of cell-type specific circuits in visual processing. Specific cell types and their connectivity are a key determinant in neural function and selectivity. Primary visual cortex (V1) is one of the largest and most complex structures in the brain, yet very little is known regarding the functional role of specific cell types and circuits, especially in non-rodent species that depend highly on vision. The Lyon lab approach involves a number of highly innovative tools including recombinant adeno-associated viruses, cell-type specific promoters, a genetically modified and pseudo-typed rabies virus, intrinsic signal optical imaging, and optogenetics. These studies will represent the most direct in vivo assessment of inhibitory neurons and underlying intra- and inter-laminar circuitry of large, highly visual mammals, advancing understanding of how basic visual processes arise and depend on complex cortical structure.

NASA awards UCI $9 million to study underlying mechanisms of ‘space brain’

Charles Limoli will lead effort to see how cosmic radiation affects astronauts’ cognition. Fellow UCI investigators on the NASA project are Ivan Soltesz, professor and chair of anatomy & neurobiology; Munjal Acharya, assistant professor of radiation oncology; and Janet Baulch and Vipan Kumar, project scientists in Limoli’s research group.(click here for full story)

Ivan Soltesz to receive research support from President Obama's BRAIN Initiative

With BRAIN Initiative funding, Ivan Soltesz will construct the first full-scale computational model of the brain area that produces memory replay in which every cell is explicitly simulated. (click here for full story)

Dr. Ivan Soltesz at the White House in Washington, DC on September 30, 2014

Predicting Epilepsy

A novel epilepsy-predicting signal, originally observed at UCI via high-powered laboratory brain scans, could also be detected with the conventional scanners employed in hospitals to image the brains of children. (click here for full story)

2014 Grad Day Huge Success!

The annual Anatomy & Neurobiology Departmental Grad Day was held Friday June 20, 2014.  Grad Day is an annual event that allows graduate students to present summaries of their research activities to the full department.  This year, Grad Day was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Newport Beach, close to the UC Irvine campus.
This year’s Grad Day included two special lectures.  Dr. Christopher Schaumburg, a Research Investigator at Allergan Inc., presented his lecture “Research Careers in Pharma.”   The scientific keynote address was presented by Dr. Peyman Golshani.  Dr. Golshani is a graduate of this program and currently is Assistant Professor of Neurology and a member of the Brain Research Institute at UCLA.  Dr. Golshani, an internationally recognized expert on understanding the roles of the varied types of GABAergic inhibitory neurons in the cerebral cortex, presented his lecture "Brain-state dependent cortical network dynamics in health and neurodevelopmental disease."

Awards recognizing outstanding performances by graduate students were presented.  In the category of best poster presentation, Don Wei, graduate student in the Piomelli laboratory, was awarded first place, while Conor Cox, graduate student in the Lynch Lab, took second place.  In the category of best oral presentation, James Lim from the Piomelli laboratory and Kate Patterson of the Baram laboratory tied for first place honors, while Eric Gold, of the Cummings lab, took second place.

Congratulations to these and all graduate students, as well as faculty mentors and Director of Graduate Studies Dr. David Lyon for a highly successful Grad Day!

Department Faculty Receive Teaching Awards

The UCI School of Medicine hosted its annual Honors & Awards ceremonies in May of 2014. Several awards were presented to members of the faculty of Anatomy & Neurobiology

Dr. Jamie Wikenheiser, Assistant Professor and Course Director for the Human Anatomy course, and Dr. Ana Solodkin, Professor and Course Director for the Human Neuroscience course, each received individual Excellence in Teaching Awards. These awards are presented to faculty members by the medical students.

In addition, Ana Solodkin also won the MVP Outstanding Service Award, presented to the faculty member who has contributed exceptional time, talent, and support of the Educational Programs. This MVP Award was made in recognition of Dr. Solodkin’s excellent work in restructuring the Human Neuroscience course.

Further, Dr. Jamie Wikenheiser also received the Silver Beaker award, presented annually by the medical students to the most outstanding School of Medicine Basic Science faculty member.

Finally, the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology received the
AMSG Excellence in Teaching - First Year Course for the Anatomy/Embryology course. Congratulations to Drs. Jamie Wikenheiser and Justin Schaefer for presenting this outstanding course!

Congratulations to these faculty members for their dedication and success in teaching and for their well-deserved recognition. These awards demonstrate the continued exceptional dedication to teaching by faculty of the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology.

Dr. Soltesz’s Epilepsy Work Attracts National Public Radio (NPR) Attention

Dr. Ivan Soltesz, Chancellor’s Professor and Chair of the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, leads a research laboratory that investigates the causes of, and possible treatments for, epileptic seizure activity. Recent ground-breaking work from the Soltesz laboratory has attracted wide attention and prompted an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

Most current therapy for epilepsy is based largely on pharmacological treatment. However, daily treatment with anti-seizure medications means that individuals (and particularly their brains) are continuously exposed to those drugs. Further, because the medications expose the entire brain, the drugs not only affect seizure production but also affect other neural processes and lead to a wide variety of side effects.

What is needed is a therapeutic technique that treats only the parts of the brain that generate seizure activity and only for the brief periods of time when seizures are occurring. This is just the experimental treatment that the Soltesz lab has developed. Seizures occur when brain cells start firing abnormally and rapidly. Using mice that are prone to develop seizures, the Soltesz laboratory used electrophysiological recordings to detect the beginnings of seizure activity. Then, using the technique of optogenetics, they delivered pulses of light that activated the brain's own system for slowing down runaway cells. Either by activating inhibitory neurons of the brain, or by deactivating excitatory neurons, these treatments succeeded in making the seizures stop when the light was delivered.

Although these experiments were used on animals with brain cells that have been genetically altered to respond to the light pulses, a similar approach could be used to stop epileptic seizures in people. Soltesz hopes that future implanted devices will be able to stop seizures entirely in people with severe epilepsy. Congratulations Dr. Soltesz! Listen to the complete NPR interview.

Dr. Tallie Z. Baram Receives Major Neurology Award and $10 million Center Grant

Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, Professor of Pediatrics, Neurology, and Anatomy & Neurobiology,and the Danette Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences recently received notification of two outstanding awards. The first, 2013 Bernard Sachs Award, from the Child Neurology Society at its annual meeting in Austin, Texas. The Bernard Sachs award is widely seen as the highest accolade for research in neuroscience with relevance to the care of children with neurological disorders.

Baram does not intend to rest on her laurels. She views the award as a stimulus to double her efforts to promote our understanding of the early-life factors that affect the developing brain, and specifically, vulnerability and resilience to cognitive and emotional problems during adolescence and later in life. Baram's ambition to uncover the mysteries of how early life experience "programs" the brain will be greatly aided by the second award: a $10 million prestigious Silvio O. Conte Center grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. This funding is intended to establish an interdisciplinary program to explore how patterns and rhythms of maternal signals before and after birth may influence an infant’s vulnerability to cognitive and emotional problems during adolescence.

“We want to help answer the question that’s been a topic of intense investigation for decades,” she says. “What happens during childhood that shapes the brain for life? This complex problem requires a multidisciplinary approach that involves both animal and human research. Here at UC Irvine, we’re applying principles of neurobiology to a strong human research program, and I believe that with the Conte Center funding, we can make innovative and major contributions to the solving of this crucial question. Congratulations Dr. Baram! Read the full story here.

Dr. Xiangmin Xu Awarded Krieg Cortical Prize

The Cajal Club is among the oldest societies devoted to the study of Neuroscience. Each year, the Cajal Club presents Krieg Cortical Kudos Awards to neuroscientists at senior, intermediate, and beginning stages of their careers in recognition of outstanding research on the cerebral cortex. The 2013 Cortical Explorer award, for an outstanding investigator during the intermediate phase of his professional career, has been awarded to Dr. Xiangmin Xu, Assistant Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology.

This Kreig Cortical Kudo award is made in recognition of Dr. Xu’s work on understanding the cellular circuitry of the cerebral cortex. The award will be made during the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, California at the Cajal Club Social on Sunday, November 10. The award includes a medal, a certificate, and a check to be used at the recipient’s discretion. This is a prestigious international award and represents important recognition of Dr. Xu’s work. Congratulations Dr. Xu!

Dr. Xiangmin Xu's Lab Identifies Key Inhibitory Neurons for Vision Development

Developing the ability to see requires that the visual parts of the brain are stimulated appropriately during a specific period of time (the ‘critical period’) of development. People, or animals, that are deprived of normal vision by cataracts or a ‘lazy eye’ during early development have defects in their vision. Restriction of normal visual experience can have permanent defects in vision, even after surgery to remove cataracts or correct lazy eye. These flaws appear to be a result of improper brain development due to visual deprivation during childhood.

Studies in laboratory mice by Xiangmin Xu, PhD, Assistant Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology along with Josh Trachtenberg, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurobiology at UCLA, have revealed that it is the improper functioning of a particular class of inhibitory neurons during the critical period of development that is responsible for the vision defects. Even more exciting is their finding that the critical period window can be re-opened by manipulating the activity of these inhibitory neurons to treat the neural defects that typically result from loss of vision during early development.

By discovering the role of key neurons that mediate an important part of vision development, Dr. Xu and colleagues have opened a new approach to correcting visual disorders in children who suffer from early cataracts or amblyopia, also known as lazy eye. The results of their study appeared online Aug. 25 in the journal Nature.

Ivan Soltesz and Lab Create Fiber-optic Method of Halting Epileptic Seizures

Dr. Ivan Soltesz, Chancellor’s Professor and Chair of Anatomy and Neurobiology, along with Postdoctoral scholars Esther Krook-Magnuson, Caren Armstrong and staff researcher, Mikko Oijala, have developed a way to stop epileptic seizures with fiber-optic light signals, heralding a novel opportunity to treat the most severe manifestations of the brain disorder.

Using a mouse model of temporal lobe epilepsy, these investigators created a computer system that monitors ongoing EEG brain activity, and activates optical strands implanted in the brain when a seizure is detected. These optical fibers subsequently activate special light-sensitive proteins called opsins, which can either stimulate or inhibit specific neurons in select brain regions during seizures, depending on the type of opsin.

Soltesz and colleagues demonstrated that this process was able to arrest ongoing electrical seizure activity and reduce the incidence of severe tonic-clonic seizure events.

The results of this study have appeared online in Nature Communications. Congratulations to Dr's. Soltesz, Krook-Magnuson, Armstrong and Mr. Oijala!

Dr. Daniele Piomelli Receives Honorary Doctorate

Dr. Daniele Piomelli, Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology, recently received an honorary doctoral degree (Doctor of Medicine, honoris causa) from the Medical Faculty of Goethe University. The degree was awarded in Frankfurt Germany, on November 27, 2012, in recognition of Dr. Piomelli’s outstanding contributions to the physiology and pharmacology of lipid mediators in general and to the study of endogenous cannabinoids in particular.

Goethe University, situated in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, is named for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the Frankfurt-born Renaissance thinker, renowned for his exceptional contributions to literature, science, and philosophy. Founded in 1914, Goethe University is internationally recognized as the pioneering public university in Europe. Congratulations Dr. Piomelli! See this story in UCI News.

Dr. Xiangmin Xu Receives Major Research Funding

Dr. Xiangmin Xu, Assistant Professor of Anatomy & Neurobiology recently received notification of two grant awards. Dr. Xu is the recipient of a highly prestigious 5 year NIH RO1 award, beginning September 1, 2012. In addition, Dr. Xu has received notification of a 2 year Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation.

Dr. Xu is a cellular neurobiologist, with research interests in the intricacies of the neural circuitry of cerebral cortical structures. These new grants will support his studies of the microcircuitry of connections of GABAergic inhibitory neurons of the hippocampal formation. The hippocampus, as well as other cortical structures, is comprised of several types of excitatory and inhibitory neurons; the different types of inhibitory neurons appear to display different morphological features and to perform different functions. Dr. Xu plans to use combined approaches of electrophysiology, optical stimulation and novel viral tracing to map local and long-range direct synaptic connections to the major inhibitory neuronal types in the mouse hippocampus.

These studies will increase our understanding of inhibitory neuronal circuit organization in the hippocampus, and will guide future studies to assess and treat circuits in the brains that are altered following disease or injury. The results of this research will enable better therapeutic targeting of neuronal components disrupted by disease in hippocampal circuits that contribute to epilepsy and learning and memory disorders. Congratulations Dr. Xu!

Dr. Yoav Noam Wins International Research Award

Dr. Yoav Noam has been named a recipient of the prestigious 2012 Rubicon Research Award by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. The award will fund Dr. Noam's research in the laboratory of Dr. Tallie Z. Baram, Professor of Pediatrics and Anatomy & Neurobiology, and the Danette Shepard Chair of Neurological Sciences at UC Irvine.

Dr. Noam will spend the next two years studying specialized ion channels (HCN channels) that contribute to neuronal communication and their possible role in the etiology of epilepsy. In Dr. Baram’s laboratory, innovative microscopy techniques will be used to directly visualize and analyze how different types of these ion channels assemble and behave on the membranes of living neurons. This research is intended to reveal the contribution of these ion channels to normal brain function and to pathological states that underlie the development of epileptic seizures.

The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research is the national research council in the Netherlands and promotes quality and innovation in science by selecting and funding the best research across a wide variety of fields. The grant derives its interesting name from the river Rubicon. Julius Caesar reportedly crossed this river before embarking upon his series of victories that led to the statement, "Veni, Vidi, Vici". Congratulations and welcome to Dr. Noam!

Dr's. Anderson and Cummings Receive CIRM Funding

Dr. Aileen Anderson, Associate Professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, and of Anatomy & Neurobiology recently received word of a 3 year, $1.3 million grant from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM).

Also funded by this CIRM grant is Dr. Brian Cummings, also Associate Professor of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and of Anatomy & Neurobiology. Anderson and Cummings are a stem cell neurobiologists, who will use the funds to study the properties of induced pluripotent cells and how these cells can be used to treat injuries and diseases in the central nervous system. Congratulations Drs. Anderson and Cummings!

Dr. Christine Gall receives notice of $6.3 million NIH Program Project Grant

Memory and cognitive disorders appear to be associated with abnormal dendritic spines and/or disturbances in the regulation of the dendritic spine cytoskeleton. Dr. Gall’s Program Project brings together a team of investigators to address the hypothesis that defects in regulation of cytoskeletal components of dendritic spines represent a common neurobiological basis for memory disturbances. Further, the results of these studies will determine whether the mechanisms that regulate the cytoskeletal components of spines offer a useful therapeutic target for improving cognitive performance. These studies, using models of memory disturbances in rodents, will be carried out by a collaborative group of four laboratories, and are designed to identify defects in activity-driven signaling associated with physiological correlates of learning and of behavior. These studies then will go on to test (i) if increasing endogenous BDNF expression elicits increases in signaling through the actin regulatory cascades and (ii) the prediction that the restoration of actin regulation is accompanied by a reduction in behavioral abnormalities and learning in each of the rodent models.

Three Projects will be directed by UCI investigators Christine Gall (Overall Program Project principal investigator), Gary Lynch, and Tallie Z Baram; the fourth project is directed by Dr. Michel Baudry (University of Southern California). Congratulations to Dr. Gall and her research team for obtaining NIH support for this exciting and important scientific work!