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New research examines COVID-19 impact on aging brain

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and Duke University Medical Center will collaborate on a study that investigates why some older patients, who become severely ill from COVID-19, develop delirium that can lead to brain damage and a dementia diagnosis.

Nearly 30-percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 develop delirium – a state of confusion and impaired awareness. For severely ill patients the likelihood of delirium is closer to 70-percent. “The initial delirium, and then the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems – commonly known as dysexecutive syndrome – were arguably the most notable things in older people that had managed to survive COVID-19,” said Harris Gelbard, M.D., Ph.D. Professor and Director, Center for Neurotherapeutics Discovery, who is also the principal investigator at URMC on this study which is being funded by the National Institute of Aging. “Nobody knows whether that's permanent or not because of the advanced age of the people this is impacting.”

Using a model for inhaled lipopolysaccharide-based acute lung injury in mice to mimic what happens in the lungs of a severally ill COVID-19 patient, Gelbard and his colleague Niccolo Terrando, Ph.D. at Duke University Medical Center will look for specific events in the neurovascular unit —brain endothelial cells and their blood-brain barrier (BBB) forming tight junctions that support the central nervous system – that can be traced back to cognitive impairment. Part of the hypothesis Gelbard is investigating is that scarring in the lung may cause platelets and inflammatory white cells to migrate to blood vessels in the central nervous system with the white cells traversing the BBB to cause neurologic disease. “The goal is to establish what the prerequisites are for lung injury that will lead to brain injury. And at that point, then we can start asking more complicated questions.”

The researchers will also investigate how the body responds to URMC-099, an anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective agent developed by Gelbard, to prevent these sequelae. The use of behavior analysis at Duke and in vivo brain imaging at URMC will determine delirium-like changes in the mice.

Gelbard and Terrando are confident that this study will lead to a larger and longer study of the impact COVID-19 has on the brain of an older population. “If you could do something to prevent that in the first place, chances are you are going to do better, down the road.”

Read More: New research examines COVID-19 impact on aging brain


Friday, September 18, 2020

We would like to congratulate Mark Stoessel from the Majewska Lab for being awarded an F31 grant for "Dynamics and function of cerebellar microglia".  The grant runs from September 2020 - September 2023.

We also congratulate Dennisha King, Tori Popov, Mark DuHain, and MaKenna Cealie for their appointments to the new T32 grant.

Congratulations all.  Well done.

2020 Convocation Award Winners

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Let's all send congratulations to our graduate students and faculty for once again being recognized at Convocation.

Graduate Alumni Fellowship Award - Paige Nicklas

Irving L. Spar Fellowship Award - Maleelo Shamambo

J. Newell Stannard Scholarship Award - Michael Giannetto

Merritt and Marjorie Cleveland Fellowship - Victoria Popov

Outstanding Graduate Program DirectorAnna Majewska, Ph.D.

Outstanding Graduate Course DirectorRobert Stanley Freeman, Ph.D.

Read More: 2020 Convocation Award Winners

Rianne Stowell, Ph.D. has work published in TheScienceBreaker

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Wake up microglia! How brain state regulates immune cells

Microglia, the immune cells of the brain, helps the brain modify its circuits in response to new experiences. In a recent study, we found that microglia helping to rewire the brain may be dependent on whether the organism is awake or asleep.

Historically, neuroscience focused on neurons, the functional cellular units of communication in the brain. However, exciting recent advances in microscopy have revealed the importance of many other cell types in essential brain functions. Amongst these supporting players in the brain are microglia, the immune cells of the brain.

Read More: Rianne Stowell, Ph.D. has work published in TheScienceBreaker

Rochester leads novel research project on how the brain interprets motion

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Major NIH award to study how the brain infers structure from sensory signals may have applications for disorders like schizophrenia and offer insights for artificial intelligence

Imagine you’re sitting on a train. You look out the window and see another train on an adjacent track that appears to be moving. But, has your train stopped while the other train is moving, or are you moving while the other train is stopped?

The same sensory experience—viewing a train—can yield two very different perceptions, leading you to feel either a sensation of yourself in motion or a sensation of being stationary while an object moves around you.

Human brains are constantly faced with such ambiguous sensory inputs. In order to resolve the ambiguity and correctly perceive the world, our brains employ a process known as causal inference.

Causal inference is a key to learning, reasoning, and decision making, but researchers currently know little about the neurons involved in the process.

In order to bridge the gap, a team of researchers at the University of Rochester, including Greg DeAngelis, the George Eastman Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and Ralf Haefner, an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences, received a $12.2 million grant award from the National Institutes of Health for a project to better understand how the brain uses causal inference to distinguish self-motion from object motion.

The five-year award is part of the NIH’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative. The insights generated by the award, which also involves researchers at New York University, Harvard Medical School, Rice University, and the University of Washington, may have important applications in developing treatments and therapies for neural disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, as well as inspire advances in artificial intelligence.

“This NIH BRAIN Initiative Award is the biggest research award in the history of the Department Brain and Cognitive Sciences,” says Duje Tadin, professor and chair of the department at Rochester. “It aims to solve the key question of how our brains interpret the information collected by our senses. This research builds on a longstanding strength of BCS of using computational methods to understand both behavior and underlying neural mechanisms.”

Unraveling a complicated circuit of neurons

Causal inference involves a complicated circuit of neurons and other sensory mechanisms that are not widely understood, DeAngelis says, because “sensory perception works so well most of the time, so we take for granted how difficult of a computational problem it is.”

In actuality, sensory signals are noisy and incomplete. Additionally, there are many possible events that could happen in the world that would produce similar patterns of sensory input.

Consider a spot of light that moves across the retina of the eye. The same visual input could be the result of a variety of situations: it could be caused by an object that moves in the world while the viewer remains stationary, such as a person standing still at a window and observing a moving ambulance with a flashing light; it could be caused by a moving observer viewing a stationary object, such as a runner noticing a lamppost from a distance; or it could be caused by many different combinations of object motion, self-motion, and depth.

The brain has a difficult problem to solve: it must infer what most likely caused the specific pattern of sensory signals that it received. It can then draw conclusions about the situation and plan appropriate actions in response.

Using data science, lab experiments, computer models, and cognitive theory, DeAngelis, Haefner, and their colleagues will pinpoint single neurons and groups of neurons that are involved in the process. Their goal is to identify how the brain generates a consistent view of reality through interactions between the parts of the brain that process sensory stimuli and the parts of the brain that make decisions and plan actions.

Developing therapies and artificial intelligence

Recognizing how the brain uses causal inference to separate self-motion from object motion may help in designing artificial intelligence and autopilot devices.

“Understanding how the brain infers self-motion and object motion might provide inspiration for improving existing algorithms for autopilot devices on planes and self-driving cars,” Haefner says.

For example, a plane’s circuitry must take into account the plane’s self-motion in the air while also avoiding other moving planes appearing around it.

The research may additionally have important applications in developing treatments and therapies for neural disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, conditions in which casual inference is thought to be impaired.

“While the project is basic science focused on understanding the fundamental mechanisms of causal inference, this knowledge should eventually be applicable to the treatment of these disorders,” DeAngelis says.

Read More: Rochester leads novel research project on how the brain interprets motion

Circadian Rhythms Help Guide Waste from Brain

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

New research details how the complex set of molecular and fluid dynamics that comprise the glymphatic system – the brain’s unique process of waste removal – are synchronized with the master internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.  These findings suggest that people who rely on sleeping during daytime hours are at greater risk for developing neurological disorders.

“These findings show that glymphatic system function is not solely based on sleep or wakefulness, but by the daily rhythms dictated by our biological clock,” said neuroscientist Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and senior author of the study, which appears in the journal Nature Communications

The findings add to a growing understanding of the operation and function of glymphatic system, the brain’s self-contained waste removal process which was first discovered in 2012 by researchers in the Nedergaard’s lab.  The system consists of a network of plumbing that follows the path of blood vessels and pumps cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) through brain tissue, washing away waste.  Research a few years later showed that the glymphatic system primarily functions while we sleep

Since those initial discoveries, Nedergaard’s lab and others have shown the role that blood pressure, heart rate, circadian timing, and depth of sleep play in the glymphatic system’s function and the chemical signaling that occurs in the brain to turn the system on and off.  They have also shown how disrupted sleep or trauma can cause the system to break down and allow toxic proteins to accumulate in the brain, potentially giving rise to a number of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.  

Read More: Circadian Rhythms Help Guide Waste from Brain

Rochester researcher recognized with national award for outstanding vision research

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Vision scientist David Williams is third consecutive recipient with Rochester ties.

For the third consecutive year, a member of the Rochester community has been recognized by the Association of University Professors of Ophthalmology (AUPO) for outstanding vision research.

David Williams, the William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics, has been selected by the association as the 2021 recipient of the RPB David F. Weeks Award for Outstanding Vision Research. The award annually recognizes and celebrates an outstanding ophthalmic vision scientist whose research has made meaningful contributions to the understanding or treatment of potentially blinding eye diseases.

The previous two recipients of the award were:

2020: Christine Curcio ’81 (PhD), who is now the White-McKee Endowed Professor in Ophthalmology at the University of Alabama and director of the Age-Related Macular Degeneration Histopathology Lab.

2019: Jayakrishna Ambati ’98M (Res), who is now a professor of ophthalmology at the University of Virginia.

Williams, who holds joint appointments in optics, brain and cognitive sciences, ophthalmology, and biomedical engineering, is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on human vision. As a pioneer in using new technologies that improve the eyesight of people around the world, he and his research team demonstrated the first adaptive optics system for the eye, making it possible to image individual retinal cells. The techniques developed by Williams and his group have also improved vision in patients with contact lenses, intraocular lenses, and laser refractive surgery. For example, the methods Williams’s group developed are used in many of the Lasik procedures conducted worldwide today.

Williams additionally serves as director of the Center for Visual Science, a research program consisting of more than 37 faculty members from seven different departments dedicated to understanding how humans see, as well as the disorders that compromise sight.

Williams joined the Rochester faculty in 1981, and served as dean for research in Arts, Sciences & Engineering from 2011 to 2019. He is a fellow of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the Optical Society of America, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2017, he was named a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Weeks Award is scheduled to be presented to Williams at the AUPO Annual Meeting in February 2021.

BMG Faculty, Douglas Portman, Ph.D. Leads Study: Biology Blurs Line Between Sexes, Behaviors

Monday, August 10, 2020


A new study, from the journal Current Biology, spotlights research from Biomedical Genetics Professor Douglas Portman, Ph.D. Titled Dynamic, Non-binary Specification of Sexual State in the C. elegans Nervous System, this research “identifies a genetic switch in brain cells that can toggle between sex-specific states when necessary, findings that question the idea of sex as a fixed property”. Further information can be found on the URMC's Del Monte Institute’s webpage: NeURoscience.

The Future of Neuroscience: In Their Own Words

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Visit the NeURscience Blog where Neuroscience Graduate Program students are interviewed on their perspective of the future of Neuroscience.

Read More: The Future of Neuroscience: In Their Own Words

URMC Tapped to Advance Research in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

 The University of Rochester has been designated an Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC) by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The award recognizes the Medical Center’s national leadership in research for conditions such Autism, Batten disease, and Rett syndrome, will translate scientific insights into new ways to diagnose and treat these conditions, and provide patients and families access to cutting edge care.

The IDDRC at the University of Rochester will be led by John Foxe, Ph.D., director of the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience, and Jonathan Mink, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Child Neurology at Golisano Children’s Hospital. The designation is accompanied with more than $6 million in funding from NICHD.

Read More: URMC Tapped to Advance Research in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Study: Neurons can shift how they process information about motion

Friday, June 19, 2020

New Rochester research indicates some neurons may be more adept than previously thought in helping you perceive the motion of objects while you move through the world.

The findings may have implications for developing future prosthetics and for understanding some brain disorders.

Our brains use various reference frames—also known as coordinate systems—to represent the motion of objects in a scene.

Some coordinate systems are more useful than others for representing information. To represent a location on Earth, for example, we might use an Earth-centered coordinate system such as latitude and longitude. In such an Earth-centered coordinate system, a location—such as your home—is constant over time. But you could also represent where you live as a location relative to the sun using a sun-centered coordinate system. Such a system would clearly not be useful for people trying to find where you live, as your address in sun-centered coordinates would change continuously as the Earth rotates relative to the sun.

The human brain faces this same problem of representing information with appropriate coordinate systems and transferring between coordinate systems to guide your actions. This is partly because sensory information is encoded in different reference frames: visual information is initially encoded relative to the eye with eye-centered coordinates, auditory information is initially encoded relative to the head with head-centered coordinates, and so on. An interesting set of computations must occur in the brain in order for these sensory signals to be combined to allow a person to perceive an entire scene.

But how do neurons represent objects in different reference frames while you move through an environment?

In a paper published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers from the University of Rochester, including Greg DeAngelis, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, examined how neurons in the brain represent the motion of an object while the observer is also moving.

Specifically, the researchers studied how observers judge an object’s motion relative to the observer’s head or relative to the world.

Their findings—that neurons in a specific brain region are more flexible in switching between reference frames—offer important information about the inner workings of the brain and could potentially be used in neural prosthetics and therapies to treat brain disorders.

Are neurons fixed or flexible?

Imagine you’re playing soccer. If you’re running and want to head the ball, you would need to compute the trajectory of the ball’s motion relative to your head so you can make contact between your head and the ball. A head-centered coordinate system would therefore be useful. Alternatively, if you are running and watching your teammate kick the ball toward the goal, you would need to compute the trajectory of the ball relative to the goal to determine whether or not your teammate scored. This would require a world-centered coordinate system since the goal is fixed relative to the world.

“Depending on the task being performed, the brain needs to represent object motion in different coordinate systems to be successful,” DeAngelis says. “The big question is: how does the brain do this?”

The researchers wanted to determine if the brain has to switch between different neurons that each have a different fixed reference frame—for example, switching between head-centered neurons and world-centered neurons—or if the neurons are flexible and update their reference frames according to the instantaneous demands of the task of representing object motion.

The researchers trained subjects to judge object motion in either head-centered or world-centered coordinates and to switch between them from trial to trial based on a cue.

The researchers recorded signals from neurons in two different areas of the brain and found that neurons in the ventral intraparietal (VIP) area of the brain have a remarkable property: their responses to object motion change depending on the task.

That is, the neurons do not have fixed reference frames, but instead flexibly adapt to the demands of the task and change their reference frames accordingly.

Neurons in VIP will represent object motion in head-centered coordinates when the subjects are required to report object motion relative to their head. They represent object motion in world-centered coordinates when the subject was required to report object motion relative to the world.

Because the neurons have such flexible responses, this means the brain may greatly simplify the process of passing along the information it needs to guide actions.

“This is the first study to show that neurons can flexibly represent spatial information, such as object motion, in different coordinate systems based on the instructions given to the subject,” DeAngelis says. “This means the brain can decode—or ‘read out’—information from this single population of neurons and be able to have the information it needs for either task situation.”

The VIP area is located in the parietal lobe of the brain and receives inputs from visual, auditory, and vestibular (inner ear) senses. This is the first study to test for flexible reference frames, so the VIP area is the only area known to have this property. The researchers suspect, however, that neurons in other areas of the brain may have this property as well.

Applications for neural prosthetics and brain disorders

The research offers important information about the inner workings of the brain and potentially could be used for applications such as neural prosthetics, in which brain activity is used to control artificial limbs or vehicles.

“To make an effective neural prosthetic, you want to collect signals from the brain areas that would be most useful and flexible for performing basic tasks,” DeAngelis says. “If those tasks involve intercepting moving objects, for example, then tapping into signals from VIP might be a way to make a prosthetic work efficiently for a variety of tasks that would involve judging motion relative to the head or the world.”

Although this research is not currently connected to a specific brain disorder, researchers have previously found that humans’ ability to take in sensory information and infer which events in the world caused that sensory input—an ability known as causal inference—is impaired in disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

“In ongoing and future work, we are studying the neural mechanisms of this causal inference process in more detail, using related tasks that involve interactions between object motion and self-motion,” DeAngelis says.

Read More: Study: Neurons can shift how they process information about motion

Monique Mendes recognized as a 2020 recipient of the Edward Peck Curtis Awards for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Monique Mendes, Neuroscience

Photo of Monique Mendes in cap and gown“As a younger black woman who wants to go into science and medicine, I don’t have very many people in my life who go into my field of interest, and definitely not many who look like me, so Monique is a role model. She takes away some of the feelings of ‘otherness’ that I feel in certain situations and serves as a reminder that I can do this and that I do belong. I love that even though I haven’t known her long, she’s constantly very supportive and encouraging. Even after my time in Rochester came to an end, Monique has periodically checked on me to see how I am progressing. It speaks greatly to her character. Monique is an extremely hard worker who has a compassionate spirit that matches, if not exceeds, her brilliance as a scientist,” wrote Sebrena Brink, 2018 MSTP (Medical Scientist Training Program) Summer Scholar.


Read More: Monique Mendes recognized as a 2020 recipient of the Edward Peck Curtis Awards for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student

‘Time is vision’ after a stroke

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Huxlin photo

A research team including professor of ophthalmology Krystel Huxlin (right, in a 2019 photo) provided stroke patients with a form of physical therapy for the visual system using a device Huxlin developed. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

A person who has a stroke that causes vision loss is often told there is nothing they can do to improve or regain the vision they have lost.

But research from the University of Rochester, published in the journal Brain, may offer hope to stroke patients in regaining vision.

The Rochester team found that survivors of occipital strokes—strokes that occur in the occipital lobe of the brain and affect the ability to see—may retain some visual capabilities immediately after the stroke, but these abilities diminish and eventually disappear permanently after approximately six months. By capitalizing on this initial preserved vision, early vision training interventions can help stroke patients recover more of their vision loss than if training is administered after six months. 

“One of our key findings, which has never been reported before, is that an occipital stroke that damages the visual cortex causes gradual degeneration of visual structures all the way back to the eyes,” says Krystel Huxlin, the James V. Aquavella, MD Professor in Ophthalmology at the University of Rochester’s Flaum Eye Institute

The Rochester research team—including Elizabeth Saionz, a PhD candidate in Huxlin’s lab and the first author of the paper; Duje Tadin, professor and chair of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences; and Michael Melnick, a postdoctoral associate in Tadin and Huxlin’s labs—also discovered that early intervention in the form of visual training appears to stop the gradual loss of visual processing that stroke victims may experience.

Vision stroke rehabilitation remains a developing field, and previous studies and trials of experimental therapies have focused on patients with chronic vision loss—that is, patients who are more than six months post-stroke. 

“Right now, the ‘standard of care’ for vision stroke patients is that they don’t receive any targeted therapy to restore vision,” Saionz says. “They might be offered therapy to help maximize use of their remaining vision or learn how to navigate the world with their new limited vision, but there are no treatments offered that can give them back any of the vision that they lost.”

The new study compared chronic patients—those who were more than six-months post-stroke—with early subacute patients, who started training within the first three months after their stroke.

The researchers trained both groups of stroke patients using a computer-based device Huxlin developed. The training is a form of physical therapy for the visual system and involves a set of exercises that stimulates undamaged portions of the visual cortical system to use visual information. With repeated stimulation, these undamaged parts of the brain can learn to more effectively process visual information that is not filtered by the damaged primary visual cortex, partially restoring conscious visual sensations.

The researchers discovered that the subacute patients who underwent such vision training recovered global motion discrimination—the ability to determine the direction of motion in a noisy environment—as well as luminance detection—the ability to detect a spot of light—faster and much more efficiently than the chronic patients. 

Overall, the group’s findings suggest that individuals may maintain visual abilities early after a stroke, indicating they have preserved some sensory information processing that may temporarily circumvent the permanently damaged regions of the brain. Early visual training may therefore be critical both to prevent vision from degrading and to enhance restoration of any preserved perceptual abilities. 

“For the first time, we can now conclusively say that just as for sensorimotor stroke, ‘time is vision’ after an occipital stroke,” Huxlin says.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, including NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and National Institute of General Medical Sciences, as well as the Research to Prevent Blindness Foundation.

Read More: ‘Time is vision’ after a stroke

NGP Student Honored with Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Teaching

Friday, May 22, 2020

Neuroscience graduate student Monique Mendes, M.S., has received the Edward Peck Curtis Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student.

"I’m extremely proud of my students and what they have accomplished in and outside of the lab. I am incredibly fortunate to have been presented with opportunities to teach students throughout my Ph.D. I want to thank them because I have learned so much in the process,” Mendes said.

Mendes was one of 13 graduate students to be honored with this award, which requires graduate students to have significant interaction with undergraduate students in the classroom or lab, and excel in advancing the teaching mission of the University by providing highly-skilled and innovative instruction.

“I was thoroughly convinced by the nomination submitted by the faculty that Monique is an outstanding educator with a bright future,” Vice Provost and University Dean of Graduate Education Melissa Sturge-Apple, Ph.D., said.  In presenting the award to Mendes virtually earlier this month, Sturge-Apple presented Mendes remarked “I’m grateful for all of your hard work and your mentoring and teaching which is central to the mission of our University, so I was so honored to give you this award. I wish I could do it in person.”

During the presentation, Sturge-Apple read some of the nomination letters considered in the process:

“She [Monique] has a very didactic nature to her that is beautiful complimented by her enthusiasm and her vigor. She sets the setting naturally and her persistent work ethic is taught without words but through actions.”

“As a younger black woman who wants to go into science and medicine I don’t have very many people in my life who go into my field of interest and definitely not many who look like me, so Monique is a role model in that sense as well. She takes away some of the feelings of otherness that I had in certain situations and serves as a reminder that I can do this and I do belong.”

“She has a passion that’s contagious and she is clear and succinct in conveying information. She wants those around her to understand the material and to love it the same way that she does.”

Mendes is a 5th year student in the Neuroscience Graduate Program and is studying the dynamics and kinetics of microglia self-renewal in the adult brain.

Two 2020 NGP Graduates Honored for Thesis Work

Friday, May 22, 2020

Rianne Stowell, Ph.D. was awarded the Wallace O. Fenn Award for her thesis that characterizes the dynamics of microglia, and the mechanisms regulating the function of these cells in different areas of the brain. This award is given annually to a graduating student who has performed especially meritorious research. According to her advisor Ania Majewska, Ph.D., the research that contributed to Stowell’s thesis was published in a series of three manuscripts and two reviews. Stowell’s work put microglia in the spotlight, as heterogeneous complex cells that are exquisitely tuned to activity in the brain. One of the main ¬- ¬and surprising - findings was that their activities are largely carried out in the quiescent or sleeping brain. This discovery has broad implications for understanding how microglia fit into the functions of the brain’s networks and the development of novel therapeutics for neurological diseases where microglial function is likely altered. “The work highlights Stowell’s strong independent streak and a great work ethic,” Majewska said. “That, coupled with her innate intellectual abilities and creativity, results in a winning combination that will take her far in the future. This thesis is a great beginning to an incredibly promising scientific journey.”

Dawling Dionisio-Santos, M.D., Ph.D. was awarded The Vincent du Vigneaud Award for his thesis work that was judged as superior and unique with the potential to stimulate and extend research in the field. According to Dionisio-Santos’ advisor M. Kerry O’Banion, M.D., Ph.D., Dionisio-Santos moved his research in a more translational direction and initiated a series of experiments using glatiramer acetate, a drug currently prescribed for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. He discovered that, in addition to reducing amyloid plaque levels, glatiramer acetate also reduces tau pathology and improves behavioral performance, demonstrating clear translational relevance for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. “Dionisio-Santos is a talented future physician-scientist,” O’Banion said. “With outstanding potential based on his demonstrated ability to carry out complex experiments and analyses, develop new ideas and experiments based on thorough evaluation of the literature, and inspire others with his passion for wanting to better understand neurodegenerative diseases.”

Animal Study Shows Human Brain Cells Repair Damage in Multiple Sclerosis

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A new study shows that when specific human brain cells are transplanted into animal models of multiple sclerosis and other white matter diseases, the cells repair damage and restore function.  The study provides one of the final pieces of scientific evidence necessary to advance this treatment strategy to clinical trials.

“These findings demonstrate that through the transplantation of human glial cells, we can effectively achieve remyelination in the adult brain, ” Steve Goldman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine, and lead author of the study.  “These findings have significant therapeutics implications and represent a proof-of-concept for future clinical trials for multiple sclerosis and potential other neurodegenerative diseases.”

The findings, which appear in the journal Cell Reports, are the culmination of more than 15 years of research at URMC understanding support cells found in the brain called glia, how the cells develop and function, and their role in neurological disorders. 

Goldman’s lab has developed techniques to manipulate the chemical signaling of embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells to create glia.  A subtype of these, called glial progenitor cells, gives rise to the brain’s main support cells, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, which play important roles in the health and signaling function of nerve cells. 

Read More: Animal Study Shows Human Brain Cells Repair Damage in Multiple Sclerosis

NGP Survey: Favorite Board Games

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Graph of Favorite Board Games from NGP survey

Games with one vote:

  • Agricola
  • Axis and Allies
  • Balderdash
  • Betrayal at Baldur's Gate
  • Blokus
  • Cany Land
  • Captain Sonar
  • Chutes & Ladders
  • Dinosaur Island
  • Elder Sign
  • Exploding Kittens
  • Go
  • Guess Who
  • Jenga
  • King of Tokyo
  • Labyrinth
  • Oh Hell
  • Parcheesi
  • Puerto Rico
  • Scattergories
  • Secret Hitler
  • Sequence
  • Shadows over Camelot
  • Snakes and Ladders
  • Superfight
  • Taboo
  • Top Secter Spies
  • Trivial Pursuit
  • Trouble
  • Zombicide

Congratulations Class of 2020 NGP Graduates

Friday, May 15, 2020

Congratulations to our four outstanding graduates.  Your dedication and hard work have paid off.  Meliora!

  • Aimee Morris, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Dawling Dionisio-Santos, M.D., Ph.D.
  • Jessica Hogestyn, Ph.D.
  • Rianne Stowell, Ph.D.

University Degree Conferral & Program Awards

Friday, May 15, 2020

Congratulations Rianne and Dawling on earning these awards!

The Wallace O. Fenn AwardDr. Rianne Stowell (Neuroscience)
Dr. Ania Majewska, Advisor

Dr. Wallace Fenn was a Professor of Physiology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry from 1924 to 1961. He served as the Chairperson of the Department of Physiology from 1924 to 1959 and thereafter until his death in 1971, he was appointed by the University to the position of Distinguished University Professor of Physiology. As well, Dr. Fenn served as the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies from 1957 to 1959. Click here for full award description.

Rianne’s thesis encompassed a large body of work characterizing the dynamics of microglia, and the mechanisms regulating these dynamics in different areas of the brain. It was published in a series of three first author research manuscripts and two reviews. Rianne’s work put microglia in the spotlight, as heterogeneous, complex cells that are exquisitely tuned to activity in the brain. One of the main and surprising findings was that their activities are largely carried out in the quiescent or sleeping brain. This has very broad implications for understanding how microglia fit into the larger brain network and for developing novel therapeutics based on microglial function, for many different neurological diseases where microglial function is likely altered. The ideas behind the work are novel, the experiments rigorous and thorough, the implications are wide ranging and have already had a great impact on the field. The work highlights Rianne’s strong independent streak and a great work ethic. That, coupled with her innate intellectual abilities and creativity, results in a winning combination that will take her far in the future. This thesis is a great beginning to an incredibly promising scientific journey.

The Vincent du Vigneaud AwardDr. Dawling Dionisio-Santos (Neurobiology and Anatomy)
Dr. Kerry O’Banion, Advisor.

This award is conferred by the Office of Graduate Education at the School of Medicine and Dentistry to a graduating student from any program whose thesis is judged superior and unique in potential for stimulating and extending research in the field. The award is given in honor of Vincent du Vigneaud, (1901-1978) who received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry (formerly known as Vital Economics) in 1927 at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, studying on the sulfur component of insulin. Dr. du Vigneaud performed postdoctoral research with the famous John Jacob Abel at The Johns Hopkins University Medical School (1927-1928), at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Dresden Germany, working with Max Bergmann, and at the University of Edinburgh Medical School. He returned to the U.S. to take successive positions as Professor at the University of Illinois and then at George Washington University Medical School. In 1932 he became a Professor at the Cornell Medical School, in New York City, where he remained until retiring to emeritus status in 1967. He accepted an invitation from Dr. Harold Scheraga, head of the Chemistry Department at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, to move his laboratory to Ithaca. He continued to do research in the Cornell Chemistry Research Building until suffering a stroke in 1974. Click here for full award description.

A graduate of the University of Puerto Rico, Dr. Dawling Dionisio-Santos entered Rochester’s Medical Scientist Training (MD-PhD) Program in 2013 and the Neurobiology and Anatomy PhD program in 2015. Dawling’s initial work examined the effects of anti-inflammatory cytokine signaling on tau phosphorylation in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).  Tau phosphorylation is a critical step in the development of neurofibrillary tangles, the pathological hallmark of AD that is most directly related to progression of cognitive deficits. Dawling demonstrated a remarkable inhibition of tau phosphorylation with acute IL-4 treatment that was accompanied by a shift in microglial phenotypes as well as improvements in behavioral endpoints. Motivated by a desire to move his research in a more translational direction, Dawling proposed and then initiated a series of experiments using glatiramer acetate, a drug currently prescribed for the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis. He discovered that besides reducing amyloid-? plaque levels, glatiramer acetate also reduced tau pathology and improved behavioral performance; thus, demonstrating clear translational relevance for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease. Dawling Dionisio-Santos is a talented future physician-scientist with outstanding potential based on his demonstrated ability to carry out complex experiments and analyses, develop new ideas and experiments based on thorough evaluation of the literature, and inspire others with his passion for wanting to better understand neurodegenerative diseases.

Read More: University Degree Conferral & Program Awards

Favorite Local Parks

Monday, May 11, 2020

Graph of the favorite local parks from NGP survey

Parks with one vote:

  • Ellison Park
  • Genesee Valley Greenway
  • Genesee Valley Park
  • Genesee River
  • Harriet Hollister
  • Lehigh Valley Trail
  • Riverfront near downtown
  • Tinker Park
  • Turning Point Park
  • Washington Grove

Rochester scientist earns national recognition for research

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Photo of Adam Snyder

Adam Snyder, assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

University of Rochester faculty member Adam Snyder has been named one of this year’s recipients of a Sloan Research Fellowship, a national recognition awarded to young scientists considered to be potential future leaders in the scientific community.

Awarded annually since 1955 by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the fellowships are also designed to recognize independent research accomplishments and creativity. A total of 126 researchers were selected this year for the two-year award, which carries $75,000 in research support.

Snyder, who is an assistant professor of brain and cognitive sciences in the School of Arts & Sciences and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Neuroscience in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, investigates the neural mechanisms that make it possible for the brain to process information. He is specifically trying to understand the neural mechanisms of selective attention, the ability to preferentially process information from the environment that is important for our goals, while blocking out potential distractions.

Read More: Rochester scientist earns national recognition for research

Favorite Local Breweries

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Graph of Favorite Local Breweries from NGP

Local Favorites with one vote:

  • Black Button
  • Brindle Haus 
  • Iron Tug
  • Other half
  • 3-Heads
  • Community Beer Works
  • Resurgence
  • Seven Story Brewing
  • Southern Tier

Non-local Favorites:

  • Guiness
  • The Alchemist Brewery (Vermont)
  • Zero Gravity Brewing (Vermont)
  • Orono Brewing (Maine)
  • K2 Brothers Brewing (Irondiquoit)
  • Guinness
  • Sam Adams
  • Ballast Point
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Murphys

NGP Faculty & Student Favorite Pop Sci Books

Monday, April 27, 2020

Graph of Favorite Books

Books with 1 vote:

  • A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines - Janna Levin
  • A Primate's Memoir - Sapolsky
  • Big Bang - Simon Singh
  • Botany of Desire - Micheal Pollen 
  • Childhood’s End - Arthur C. Clark
  • Emperor of All Maladies - Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Ever since Darwin - Steven Jay Gould
  • Explorers of the Black box – Susan Allport
  • Fabric of the Cosmos - Briane Greene
  • Guns, Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond
  • Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ
  • How the Mind Works - Steven Pinker
  • How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed - Ray Kurzwell
  • I am a Strange Loop - Douglas Hofstadter
  • I am Joe’s Body – J.D. Ratcliff
  • I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life - Ed Yong
  • I wish I'd made you angry earlier - Igor F. Tsigelny and Max Perutz
  • In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work - Rita Levi-Montalcini
  • In search of memory: the emergence of a new science of mind - Eric Kandel
  • Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton
  • Microbe hunters – Paul de Kruif
  • Mountains beyond mountains - Tracy Kidder / Paul Farmer
  • On a Pale Horse -  Piers Anthony
  • On Intelligence – Jeff Hawkins
  • On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer's - Greg O'Brien  
  • Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness - Peter Godfrey-Smith
  • Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
  • Pale Blue Dot - Carl Sagan
  • Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind - Sandra Blakeslee and V.S. Ramachandran
  • Radium Girls - Kate Moore
  • Reductionism in Art and Brain Science - Kandell
  • Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves - George Church
  • Rendezvous with Rama - Arthur C. Clark
  • Selfish gene – Richard Dawkins
  • Stiff – Mary Roach
  • The Blank Slate - Steven Pinker
  • The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World
  • The Butchering Art – Lindsey Fitzharris
  • The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov
  • The Chronicles of Amber - Roger Zelazny
  • The emperor of all maladies - Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • The Extended Phenotype - Richard Dawkins
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Sloot
  • The Mismeasure of Man – Steven Jay Gould
  • The Panda’s Thumb – Steven Jay Gould
  • The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons – Sam Kean
  • The universe in a nutshell – Stephen Hawking
  • Thinking Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
  • When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales from Neurology 
  • Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

Favorite Restaurants Prior to Quarantine?

Friday, April 24, 2020

NGP faculty and students sent in their favorite restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are their favorites:

NGP Favorite Quarantine Restaurants

Congratulations on our F30 Fellowship Recipients

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual Predoctoral NRSA for MD/PhD and other Dual Degree Fellowships

The purpose of this Kirschstein-NRSA program is to enhance the integrated research and clinical training of promising predoctoral students, who are matriculated in a combined MD/PhD or other dual-doctoral degree training program (e.g. DDS/PhD, AuD/PhD, DVM/PhD), and who intend careers as physician-scientists or other clinician-scientists.

Keshov Sharma was awarded an F30, starting 4/1/2020, entitled “An Amygdala to Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex Projection Implicated in Emotional Recognition”.  His Co-Mentors are Dr. Julie Fudge and Dr. Lizabeth Romanski.

Karl Foley was awarded his F30 starting 2/1/2020, entitled "Protein Phosphatase 1 isoforms and human de novo mutations in synaptic plasticity". His mentor is Hugh Xia.

Laura Owlett was awarded her F30 starting 7/1/2019, entitled "Modulating microglial phagocytosis and inflamation in Alzheimer's disease: investigating a role for Axl". Her mentors are Kerry O’Banion and John Olschowka.

Congratulations Keshov, Karl, and Laura.

Humberto Mestre is Lead Author on Study "Brain 'Drowns' in Its Own Fluid after a Stroke"

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Cerebral edema, swelling that occurs in the brain, is a severe and potentially fatal complication of stroke. New research, which was conducted in mice and appears in the journal Science, shows for the first time that the glymphatic system – normally associated with the beneficial task of waste removal – goes awry during a stroke and floods the brain, triggering edema and drowning brain cells.

“When you force every single cell, which is essentially a battery, to release its charge it represents the single largest disruption of brain function you can achieve – you basically discharge the entire brain surface in one fell swoop,” said Humberto Mestre, M.D., a Ph.D. student in the Nedergaard lab and lead author of the study. “The double hit of the spreading depolarization and the ischemia makes the blood vessels cramp, resulting in a level of constriction that is completely abnormal and creating conditions for CSF to rapidly flow into the brain.”

Read More: Humberto Mestre is Lead Author on Study "Brain 'Drowns' in Its Own Fluid after a Stroke"

Suzanne Haber Honored by Society of Biological Psychiatry for Research on Mental Disorders

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Suzanne N. Haber, Ph.D., Dean’s Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology, will receive the Society of Biological Psychiatry’s 2020 Gold Medal Award at the Society’s 75th Annual Scientific Convention & Meeting in the spring. The award honors members of the Society whose significant and sustained work has advanced and extended knowledge on the neurobiology of mental illness.

Haber’s lab investigates the cortico-cortical and cortico-basal ganglia systems in the brain. Her work demonstrates the specific hard-wired connections that are associated with normal decision making, emotional and cognitive control, and the connectional abnormalities in those circuits that are linked to a wide range of mental health disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), drug abuse and addiction, schizophrenia, and motor control disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.  This work has played a key role in targeting and interpreting the effects of noninvasive and invasive therapeutic approaches for OCD and depression.

For the past ten years, Haber has led the Silvio O. Conte Center for Basic and Translational Mental Health Research at the University of Rochester. Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Center uses translational approaches to probe the neurocircuitry that underlies neuromodulation for OCD, pinpointing specific abnormalities within the brain circuits that are associated with the disease. This information is being used to guide new treatment options for the three million-plus Americans who live with the disorder.

“Suzanne’s seminal contributions to elucidating specific neural networks that control learning, decision-making, reward and motivation, and how pathologies associated with these neural communication hubs underlie multiple neurological, movement, and mental health disorders make her uniquely qualified to receive this prestigious career award,” said Robert T. Dirksen, Ph.D., Lewis Pratt Ross Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology. “Her work is making a difference in the lives of individuals and families suffering from neurological and mental health disorders. We are extremely proud that she represents the University of Rochester as a Society of Biological Psychiatry Gold Medal Award winner.”

The Society of Biological Psychiatry was founded in 1945 to emphasize the medical and scientific study and treatment of mental disorders. It’s the oldest neuropsychiatry research society in America, currently made up of more than 1,500 members from across the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Members conduct research in areas spanning from basic cellular studies to clinical trials and prevention research.

Haber, who is also a professor of Neuroscience, Brain and Cognitive Science, and Psychiatry, will split the 2020 Gold Medal Award with Carol Tamminga, M.D. of UT Southwestern Medical Center.

NGP Student Publishes First-Author Paper in Analytical Biochemistry

Friday, January 24, 2020

Congratulations to Jake Rudlong, NGP student, for his first author review!

Rudlong J, Cheng A, Johnson GVW (2019 Dec 19). The role of transglutaminase 2 in mediating glial cell function and pathophysiology in the central nervous system. Analytical Biochemistry.

Read More: NGP Student Publishes First-Author Paper in Analytical Biochemistry

Two NGP Students First Author Nature Paper on Alzheimer's Disease

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Udaysankar Chockanathan and Emily J. Warner are the lead authors on the paper, "Altered dorsal CA1 neuronal population coding in the APP/PS1 mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease" published in the journal Nature.

AbstractWhile the link between amyloid β (Aβ) accumulation and synaptic degradation in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is known, the consequences of this pathology on population coding remain unknown. We found that the entropy, a measure of the diversity of network firing patterns, was lower in the dorsal CA1 region in the APP/PS1 mouse model of Aβ pathology, relative to controls, thereby reducing the population’s coding capacity. Our results reveal a network level signature of the deficits Aβ accumulation causes to the computations performed by neural circuits.

Excellent work Uday and Emily!

Photo of Uday ChockanathanPhoto of Emily Warner


Read More: Two NGP Students First Author Nature Paper on Alzheimer's Disease