Aging leads to significant decline in cognition and memory and is a risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases. By understanding the molecular and cellular processes that drive normal aging of the brain, we hopefully can identify strategies to minimize aging-induced decline of brain function.
Biologically, behavior is the internally coordinated response of whole living organisms (individuals or groups) to internal and/or external stimuli. It can be innate or learned from the environment.
The organized activities of neurons within and between brain regions underlie our capacity to form new memories, decide, act, and learn. We seek to understand the roles that neural activity within and between brain regions such as the hippocampus, amygdala, basal ganglia, and cortex play in cognition. Members of the cognitive systems group explore these questions using multiple approaches such as single-unit electrophysiology, fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, calcium imaging, optogenetics, and fMRI.
Applications of mathematics and computing to problems in the development, structure, physiology and cognitive abilities of the nervous system at levels ranging from single membrane channels to operations of the entire nervous system.
The process of developing a new drug that effectively targets a specific weakness in a cell. This process involves specific pre-clinical development and testing, followed by trials in humans to determine the efficacy of the drug.
Emotions are brain states characterized by altered perception, memory, decision-making, and motor behavior. They arise from the coordinated activity of neurons that form brain-wide circuits. A major hub in this circuit is the amygdala. The cellular signals emitted by the amygdala during emotional states, and the interactions between the amygdala and other nodes of this circuit, provide an insight into how certain stimuli (e.g., a threatening face or a gentle touch) gain emotional significance and alter behavior.
Homeostatic Regulation and Sleep
Sleep represents a set of states that are regulated by the brain and have implications for many areas of the body. Sleep is regulated by homeostatic processes that promote both sleep and wake states, as well as circadian processes that regulate the timing of physiologic and behavioral systems. Many of these systems interact with each other, as well as with tissues throughout the body, including immune, cardiovascular, metabolic, musculoskeletal, and sympathetic/parasympathetic systems.
Language and Neurolinguistics
Neurolinguistics studies the neural mechanisms in the human brain underlying comprehension, production, and acquisition of language. It draws methods and theories from fields such as neuroscience, linguistics, cognitive science, communication disorders and neuropsychology.
Learning & Memory
Neurobiological mechanisms of synaptic and neural plasticity mediate learning and memory Plasticity manifests itself as dynamic shifts in the strength and/or number of synaptic connections across neural circuits in response to changes in afferent input or efferent demand. Maladaptive changes in plasticity disturb neuronal circuits and cause pathological abnormalities that lead to neurological and/or psychiatric disorders.
Molecular Mechanisms of Neural Function
The basic principles governing communication between neurons are determined by their molecular constituents, which work together in space and time to facilitate the functional properties of many types of neurons and/or glia. Key molecules include a neuronal-specific complement of cell-surface receptors, ion channels, transporters, transmitters, and signaling proteins facilitating excitability, synaptic function and plasticity, sensory transduction, cell-cell communication, and the formation of neural networks.
To better understand how the brain and spinal cord coordinates the actions of multiple muscles to produce a host of movements – from breathing to object manipulation with the hand. Neuroscientists at Arizona study several aspects of the hierarchical motor system, using a variety of models and techniques, ranging from single neurons to behaving human subjects.
Development and application of devices (invasive and noninvasive) that interface with the nervous system to restore or enhance function (e.g., visual prosthesis) or alleviate symptoms caused by a disease of the nervous system (e.g., spinal implant for relief of pain). Includes imaging – the development and application of tools and techniques to visualize neural activity and related processes on different spatial and temporal scales from noninvasive to molecular and milliseconds to seconds and beyond. Also includes electrophysiology - the branch of neuroscience that explores the electrical activity of living neurons and investigates the molecular and cellular processes that govern their signaling. Neurons communicate using electrical and chemical signals. Electrophysiology techniques listen in on these signals by measuring electrical activity, allowing scientists to decode intercellular and intracellular messages.
Neuro-immunology is a relatively new area of neuroscience that studies the interactions of the immune system and the nervous system. Such interactions govern neurodevelopment and how the nervous system handles pathology such as infections, strokes, and neurodegeneration. In addition, the neuro-immune axis also influences systemic immune responses, and so understanding these interactions at the cellular and molecular level offers the opportunity for new insights into human health and disease.
Neurodegeneration is a progressive deterioration of neuronal structures and functions ultimately leading to physical and cognitive disability, dementia, and often premature death. Through the use of animal models, we seek a better understanding of the molecular and cellular causes underlying various neurodegenerative disease in the hope to develop biomarkers effectives therapies.
Neurodevelopment and Regeneration
Molecular and cellular mechanism that generate, shape, and reshape the nervous system from embryonic development to adulthood and beyond. Defects lead to a wide variety of neurodevelopmental disorders affecting sensory, motor, and cognitive function. Regenerative mechanisms can drive the regrowth or repair of nervous tissues including the generation of new neurons or glia from stem cells, or the regeneration of axons or synapses.
Pain is ordinarily experienced as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience by events that result in, or have the potential to cause injury. In contrast, chronic pain is a maladaptive and debilitating condition that can result from nerve trauma, persistent inflammation, or disease. Currently available therapies have limited success in treating chronic pain and are associated with disabling, often intolerable, side effects.
The way a sensory stimulus is processed by the brain is not static but altered by experience. We try to elucidate the principles underlying these adaptive changes by examining how experience alters sensory processing.
Synaptic Function & Plasticity
Synapses are specialized cell-cell contact sites that facilitate communication and computation of information of neuronal circuits on a sub-millisecond scale. The accuracy of this process is vital as even subtle changes in synaptic function can disturb neuronal circuits and cause pathological abnormalities that lead to neurological and/or psychiatric disorders.