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Research

Five broadly defined areas of research and training are represented within the NSB Program. Due to the extensive interactive and collaborative environments which exist within the program, many NSB Program faculty members actively participate in multiple research clusters:

Neuroendocrinology

This nationally recognized group of faculty has formed a Center for Neuroendocrine Studies, which emphasizes interdisciplinary and collaborative studies on the interactions between hormones, brain function, and behavior. Current research interests include hormones and neuronal development, regulation of neuroendocrine cells and behavior, circadian rhythms, environmental endocrine disruptors, stress, and neuronal integration of experiential, metabolic, and hormonal signals. There is particular emphasis on reproductive neuroendocrinology and the role of gonadal steroids in ovulation and female mating behavior and sexual differentiation.

Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience

Faculty members within this area apply state-of-the-art molecular and genetic techniques to the analysis of neuronal function and development in a variety of model systems. Particularly noteworthy is a strong and highly interactive group using zebrafish as a model organism to investigate the molecular mechanisms of neural development and organization. Another major area of interest involves alteration of gene expression in the mammalian brain by various chemical (hormones, neurotransmitters, drugs, phytochemicals, and industrial pollutants) and environmental (light-dark cycle, social stimuli) factors. Members of this group also belong to the interdepartmental Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) Program.

Animal Behavior and Learning

These NSB faculty members share common interests in the evolutionary, comparative, physiological, and social mechanisms underlying vertebrate and invertebrate behavior in laboratory and field settings. Areas of study are focused on species-typical behaviors and cognitive function in a variety of species ranging from jumping spiders to non-human primates, as well as mechanisms and computational modeling of simple forms of learning. Collaborative studies are underway with other Neuroscience and Behavior faculty interested either in neural and behavioral development or cellular and molecular neuroscience. Many members of this group also belong to the interdepartmental Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) Program.

Neural and Behavioral Development

This research cluster spans a broad range of interests including molecular genetic analyses of model systems, developmental psychobiology, and cognitive development in human infants. Specific research areas include the development and genetic control of neural pathways and synapse formation, involvement of hormones and neuropeptides in prenatal development, reorganizational and plastic responses to injury, drugs, or environmental changes, learning and behavior in neonates, central visual pathway organization, and the development of sensorimotor coordination. A common theme within this group is elucidating the mechanisms by which molecular and cellular events (e.g., temporal changes in gene expression, apoptotic cell death) sculpt the developing nervous system, and how these mechanisms give rise to normal behavioral maturation as well as the emergence of abnormal behavior patterns when development has been disrupted by genetic or epigenetic factors.

Sensorimotor, Cognitive, and Computational Neuroscience

NSB faculty members within this group are concerned with the organization and function of sensory and motor systems, sensorimotor integration underlying specific behavioral outputs, brain mechanisms that mediate complex cognitive processes such as attention and learning, and neural network modeling of cognitive function. Techniques such as event-related potential (ERP) recording are used to investigate real-time neural processing of sensory information. Current research projects encompass such topics as mechanisms of visual attention and object recognition, selective auditory attention in speech processing, the development of reaching movements in human infants, motor control and coordination in people with neurological damage, computational modeling of dynamic biological and behavioral processes, and machine learning.