Synaptic Plasticity and Learning

Recent research has demonstrated that there is a great deal more synaptic plasticity in the brain than was originally thought. The mechanisms that control synaptic plasticity and learning and memory are poorly understood. Understanding how to restore neural plasticity provides hope for those many neurological conditions, both developmental and adult onset. Many faculty in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience focus on understanding the neural mechanisms for plasticity that can result in a gain or loss of function. There are many collaborative interactions amongst the faculty members in this field. This is an area of strength for our graduate program.

Research in this area runs the gamut of techniques and approaches, and includes: the basic mechanisms by which the brain processes information using a neuronal network approach during the performance of complex tasks in awake, performing animals; mechanisms that control the patterns of intrinsic cortical circuity; several groups that focus on the molecular genetic, biochemical, and molecular biological studies to understand changes that lead to memory loss in dementias; neural mechanisms that control acoustic signal acquisition; drug discovery for use in limiting frequency activity in epilepsy; neural mechanisms that control visual plasticity and the effect of perceptual training; biological bases for neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders; biological substrates for the formation and retrieval of memory as it is affected by fear, anxiety, and drug dependency; use of transcranial magnetic stimulation to promote neuromodulation after brain injury; role of glial cells and specific potassium channels in loss of function; control of neuronal networks and what goes awry in epilepsy; roles of dendritic spine formation in controlling neural network excitability, learning, and memory; use of neurotrophic factors to correct eye movement abnormalities; tools for minimally invasive imaging to aid in understanding the neural bases in learning and in posttraumatic stress disorder; modulation of metabolic pathways to facilitate synaptic plasticity and restore/retain cognitive function; brain-machine interfaces to facilitate restoration of auditory function; use of stem cells after neuronal loss in the retina due to disease; role of hormones in controlling neural plasticity; molecular control of early pathway development; study of dynamic systems of neurons to understand changes to afferents that result in pathology; role of the glial cell in information processing; molecular and genetic control of neuroendocrine signaling pathways in development of connections; role of cerebral metabolic changes in the alteration of brain structure and function; dynamics of neural ensembles during decision-making processes; computational projects examining the implications of these processes on addiction and other decision-making dysfunctions; how structure and function is modified by experience; and how substances of abuse alter experience-dependent plasticity.