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New Career Development Awardees to Study Suicide Prevention and Neural Processing

Monday, March 12, 2018

Kevin Mazurek, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neurology at URMC, will investigate how areas of the brain communicate information about how and why movements are performed and how neurologic diseases such as epilepsy affect this communication.

Electrophysiological techniques allow for investigating which cortical areas communicate information related to the performance of voluntary movements. For his KL2 project, Dr. Mazurek will analyze changes in neural communication as participants perform the same hand and finger movements when instructed with different sensory cues (e.g. visual, auditory). He will compare healthy individuals and individuals with intractable epilepsy to identify changes in neural communication pathways. Identifying the exact nature in which epileptic activity affects cortical communication could lead to a biomarker for the appropriate connections to target for rehabilitative treatment.

Read More: New Career Development Awardees to Study Suicide Prevention and Neural Processing

Professor Studies Complex Brain Networks Involved in Vision

Monday, March 12, 2018

Our brains are made up of an intricate network of neurons. Understanding the complex neuronal circuits—the connections of these neurons—is important in understanding how our brains process visual information.

Farran Briggs, a new associate professor of neuroscience and of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, studies neuronal circuits in the brain’s vision system and how attention affects the brain’s ability to process visual information.

Previously a professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Briggs became interested in neuroscience in high school. “I took a class and just became really fascinated by the brain and how it works,” she says. Today, her research on the fundamental levels of vision may provide new insight on impairments associated with attention deficit disorders.

Read More: Professor Studies Complex Brain Networks Involved in Vision

Biological Sex Tweaks Nervous System Networks, Plays Role in Shaping Behavior

Thursday, March 8, 2018

By Mark Michaud

New research published today in the journal Current Biology demonstrates how biological sex can modify communication between nerve cells and generate different responses in males and females to the same stimulus. The findings could new shed light on the genetic underpinnings of sex differences in neural development, behavior, and susceptibility to diseases.

“While the nervous systems of males and females are virtually identical, we know that there is a sex bias in how many neurological diseases manifest themselves, that biological sex can influence behavior in animals, and that some of these differences are likely to be biologically driven,” said Douglas Portman, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Departments of Biomedical Genetics, Neuroscience, and the Center for Neurotherapeutics Discovery at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study. “This study demonstrates a connection between biological sex and the control and function of neural circuits and that these different sex-dependent configurations can modify behavior.”

The findings were made in experiments involving the nematode C. elegans, a microscopic roundworm that has long been used by researchers to understand fundamental mechanisms in biology. Many of the discoveries made using these worms apply throughout the animal kingdom and this research has led to a broader understanding of human biology. In fact, three Nobel Prizes in medicine and chemistry have been awarded for discoveries involving C. elegans.

The study focuses on the different behaviors of male and female worms. There are two sexes of C. elegans, males and hermaphrodites. Although the hermaphrodites are able to self-fertilize, they are also mating partners for males, and are considered to be modified females.

The behavior of C. elegans is driven by sensory cues, primarily smell and taste, which are used by the worms to navigate their environment and communicate with each other. Female worms secrete a pheromone that is known to attract males who are drawn by this signal in search of a mate. Other females, however, are repelled by the same pheromone. It is not entirely understood why, but scientists speculate that that the pheromone signals to females to avoid areas where there may be too much competition.

Read More: Biological Sex Tweaks Nervous System Networks, Plays Role in Shaping Behavior

Brain Signal Indicates When You Understand What You’ve Been Told

Friday, February 23, 2018

Photo of EEG cap

During everyday interactions, people routinely speak at rates of 120 to 200 words per minute. For a listener to understand speech at these rates – and not lose track of the conversation – the brain must comprehend the meaning of each of these words very rapidly.

“That we can do this so easily is an amazing feat of the human brain – especially given that the meaning of words can vary greatly depending on the context,” says Edmund Lalor, associate professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience at the University of Rochester and Trinity College Dublin. “For example, ‘I saw a bat flying overhead last night’ versus ‘the baseball player hit a home run with his favorite bat.’”

Now, researchers in Lalor’s lab have identified a brain signal that indicates whether a person is indeed comprehending what others are saying – and have shown they can track the signal using relatively inexpensive EEG (electroencephalography) readings taken on a person’s scalp.

Read More: Brain Signal Indicates When You Understand What You’ve Been Told

Congratulations to the Brain Awareness Campaign volunteers for hosting another successful Brain Bee on Saturday, February 3rd!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Great job Nicole Peltier, Jessie Hogestyn, Josh Hinkle, Carol Jew, Alyssa Kersey, Heather Natola and Neal Shah.

The contestants were 10 students from 5 Rochester area schools including Franklin, Brighton, Brockport, Fairport and Rush-Henrietta High Schools. This year’s Rochester Brain Bee Winner is Brian Lin, an 11th grader from Brighton High School. A grant from the Society for Neuroscience to the Rochester SFN Chapter will provide funds for Brian to attend the National Brain Bee in Baltimore, MD next month.

Thank you also to the judges and to the local area businesses who donated funds for supplies, refreshments and prizes for all the contestants.

Training brains—young and old, sick and healthy—with virtual reality

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

An accidental discovery by Rochester researchers in 2003 touched off a wave of research into the area of neuroplasticity in adults, or how the brain’s neural connections change throughout a person’s lifespan.

Fifteen years ago, Shawn Green was a graduate student of Daphne Bavelier, then an associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University. As the two created visual tests together, Green demonstrated exceptional proficiency at taking these tests himself. The two researchers hypothesized that it might be due to his extensive experience playing first-person, action-based video games. From there, Green and Bavelier demonstrated that, indeed, action-based video games enhance the brain’s ability to process visual information.

In years since, video gaming technology has gotten more sophisticated, regularly incorporating or featuring virtual reality (VR). The Oculus Rift headset, for example, connects directly to your PC to create an immersive VR gaming experience.

If we know that action-based video games enhance visual attention, might VR games do the same (and perhaps to a greater degree) because of the increased level of immersion?

That’s the question a current group of Rochester researchers—Duje Tadin, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences; Jeffrey Bazarian, professor of emergency medicine; and Feng (Vankee) Lin, assistant professor in the School of Nursing—hope to answer.

Read More: Training brains—young and old, sick and healthy—with virtual reality

Congratulations Dr. Wong

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Photo of Drs. Wong and Majewska with champagne bottle

On Feb. 7, 2018, Majewska lab graduate student, Elissa Wong, successfully defended her toxicology PhD thesis entitled, Consequences of developmental ethanol exposure on synaptic plasticity, microglial phenotype, and dendritic spine dynamics.

She has started an ORISE postdoctoral fellowship at the US FDA in Silver Spring, MD, in the lab of Ethan Cohen PhD. Her research will study the responses of microglia in the retina to known or potential neuro/ocular toxicants in order to inform risk assessment of drugs and medical devices.

Congratulations, Elissa!"

In Wine, There’s Health: Low Levels of Alcohol Good for the Brain

Friday, February 2, 2018

By Mark Michaud

While a couple of glasses of wine can help clear the mind after a busy day, new research shows that it may actually help clean the mind as well. The new study, which appears in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that low levels of alcohol consumption tamp down inflammation and helps the brain clear away toxins, including those associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Prolonged intake of excessive amounts of ethanol is known to have adverse effects on the central nervous system,” said Maiken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M.Sc., co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and lead author of the study. “However, in this study we have shown for the first time that low doses of alcohol are potentially beneficial to brain health, namely it improves the brain’s ability to remove waste.”

The finding adds to a growing body of research that point to the health benefits of low doses of alcohol. While excessive consumption of alcohol is a well-documented health hazard, many studies have linked lower levels of drinking with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases as well as a number of cancers.

"Read More: In Wine, There’s Health: Low Levels of Alcohol Good for the Brain

Lungs Mays Hold Key to Thwarting Brain Damage after a Stroke

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

By Mark Michaud

The harm caused by a stroke can be exacerbated when immune cells rush to the brain an inadvertently make the situation worse. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) are studying new ways to head off this second wave of brain damage by using the lungs to moderate the immune system’s response.

“It has become increasingly clear that lungs serve as an important regulator of the body’s immune system and could serve as a target for therapies that can mitigate the secondary damage that occurs in stroke,” said URMC neurologist Marc Halterman, M.D., Ph.D. “We are exploring a number of drugs that could help suppress the immune response during these non-infection events and provide protection to the brain and other organs.”

Halterman’s lab, which is part of the Center for NeuroTherapeutics Discovery, has been investigating domino effect that occurs after cardiac arrest. When blood circulation is interrupted, the integrity of our intestines becomes compromised, releasing bacteria that reside in the gut into the blood stream. This prompts a massive immune response which can cause systemic inflammation, making a bad situation worse.

While looking at mouse models of stroke, his lab observed that a similar phenomenon occurs. During a stroke blood vessels in the brain leak and the proteins that comprise the wreckage of damaged neurons and glia cells in the brain make their way into blood stream. The immune system, which is not used to seeing these proteins in circulation, responds to these damage-associated molecular patterns and ramps up to respond. Mobilized immune cells make their way into the brain and, finding no infection, nevertheless trigger inflammation and attack healthy tissue, compounding the damage.

The culprit in this system-wide immune response is neutrophils, a white cell in the blood system that serves as the shock troops of the body’s immune system. Because our entire blood supply constantly circulates through the lungs, the organ serves as an important way station for neutrophils. It is here that the cells are often primed and instructed to go search for new infections. The activated neutrophils can also cause inflammation in the lungs, which Halterman suspects may be mistakenly identified as post-stroke pneumonia. The damage caused by activated neutrophils can also spread to other organs including the kidneys, and liver.

Read More: Lungs Mays Hold Key to Thwarting Brain Damage after a Stroke

Ross Maddox Presents: When ears aren't enough: how your eyes help you listen

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Ross will be talking to the public about audio-visual integration in San Diego! His talk is entitled: "When ears aren't enough: how your eyes help you listen." Feb 9 at 5 PM.

Read More: Ross Maddox Presents: When ears aren't enough: how your eyes help you listen

NINDS Names Dr. Nina Schor as Deputy Director

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Photo of Nina Schor

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has named pediatric neurologist Nina Schor, M.D., Ph.D. as Deputy Director. Dr. Schor is expected to join the NINDS in January.

Dr. Schor’s experience running a large university department and children’s hospital, along with her extensive basic research background and clinical work, make her an ideal candidate for this position,” said Walter Koroshetz, M.D., NINDS director. “We are delighted to welcome Dr. Schor and look forward to working with her to advance the NINDS’ mission as it relates to neuroscience and neurological disease research.”

Read More: NINDS Names Dr. Nina Schor as Deputy Director

The Art of Science: Grad Student Finds Inspiration in Images of the Brain

Friday, January 12, 2018

Stowell Brain Painting

The complex biology, networks, and symphony of signals that underlie human cognition are a font of endless mystery and wonder to those who study it.  For Rianne Stowell, a graduate student in the lab of URMC neuroscientist Ania Majewska, Ph.D., these questions are also a source of artistic inspiration which has led to the creation of striking paintings of the brain’s inner workings.

Stowell’s most recent creation (above) is based on research which has recently been published in the journal Developmental Neurobiology and sheds new light on the role that immune cells called microglia play in wiring and rewiring the connections between nerve cells.

Stowell recalls wanting to pursue a career in art as far back as elementary school in Pennsylvania and while she carried that desire with her to Moravian College, she also began to explore other academic fields. Her interest in biology and psychology attracted her to a degree in neuroscience and that decision ultimately led her to the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, where she is in now in her fourth year of graduate studies in pursuit of her Ph.D. in neuroscience.

Read More: The Art of Science: Grad Student Finds Inspiration in Images of the Brain

Introducing a New Faculty Member

Friday, January 5, 2018

Michele Rucci has joined the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences as a professor after serving as a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University. Rucci’s research program combines experimental and theoretical approaches to study mechanisms of visual perception. His primary interests lie in the elucidation of how motor and sensory processes interact in the human brain and how motor behavior contributes to the extraction and processing of visual information. Rucci and his colleagues have explained the functional roles of microscopic eye movements that take place while we fixate on an object of interest. He has demonstrated that these miniature eye movements play important roles in reformatting the visual input to be processed efficiently and for systematically exploring objects during tasks that require high spatial precision. He received Laurea (MA) and PhD degrees in biomedical engineering from the University of Florence and the Scuola Superiore S. Anna in Pisa, respectively. Before joining the faculty of Boston University, he was a fellow in computational neuroscience at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego.

Rianne Stowell has 1st Author Paper Accepted in Developmental Neurobiology

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Congratulations to Rianne and the Majewska lab for having their paper accepted for publication!

"Cerebellar microglia are dynamically unique and survey Purkinje neurons in vivo"
Authors: Stowell, R. D., Wong, E. L., Batchelor, H. N., Mendes, M. S., Lamantia, C. E., Whitelaw, B. S., & Majewska, A. K.