Neurodegenerative Diseases and Neural Injury

Neurons are the building blocks of our central nervous system. Their importance is highlighted by the diseases that result from their injury and death. Unfortunately, neurons do not reproduce or replace themselves when injured, which results  in devastating neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Huntington’s disease. Neurodegenerative diseases represent an enormous burden on society, both in terms of the economic cost and in human suffering. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (2015), Alzheimer’s disease alone affects 5.4 million people in the U.S. With the aging of our population estimates show that between 11 and 16 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s or other dementia by 2050. At least 50,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed every year, which results in significant loss of work productivity and huge economic costs to society. A large group of our faculty in the Graduate Program of Neuroscience focus on the pathophysiology and development of potential therapeutic strategies for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Research in this area is very diverse in both approach and disease focus, and ranges from genetic and molecular biological studies to computational modeling. Laboratories study the following: molecular genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology of prion and Alzheimer’s disease; mechanisms underlying developing and aging of neurons in the cerebellum and the genetic control of spinal cerebellar ataxia; the role of mutations in guidance molecules in neurological syndromes; neuropathology of hereditary ataxias and myotonic dystrophy; role of mitochondria in Huntington’s disease; potential stem cell avenues for treatment of spinal cord injury and neurodegenerative conditions; neural control of spinocerebellar and episodic ataxias; molecular bases of schizophrenia and autism; pharmaceutical and biotechnology based treatment development for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s diseases and multiple sclerosis; neuromodulation and deep brain stimulation therapies for the treatment of various movement disorders; biomechanics of cerebellar and basal ganglia dysfunction; genetic and molecular bases of various forms of spinocerebellar ataxias; neuronal network function in epilepsy; potential etiology of fibromyalgia syndrome; studies into the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases with a focus on molecular pathways; role of amyloid beta in Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiology; brain-machine interfaces and neural prostheses for hearing loss; metabolic differences in real time using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in subjects with various neurodegenerative pathologies; effect of estrogen on memory function; probing the mechanisms of neurological disorders with non-invasive imaging technologies; potential stem cell and protein expression mechanisms for muscular dystrophy; use of stem cells to replace degenerating neurons in the retina; understanding the neural networks underlying epilepsy; development of biomarkers of neurodegeneration to use with fMRI to facilitate early detection and treatment monitoring; and the role of calcium in HIV-1 associated dementia and in Alzheimer’s disease.


Michael Lee
Danni Li
Glenn Lobo
Jessica Nielson
Christina Pacak
Ann Parr
Scott Sponheim
Stanley Thayer