Tag Archive for Neuroscience

Grant Will Support Epilepsy Therapy Study at Wesleyan

Gloster Aaron, Jan Naegele and Laura Grabel.

Gloster Aaron, Jan Naegele and Laura Grabel.

Three Wesleyan professors have been awarded a four-year, $1.49 million grant by the state of Connecticut’s Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee. The grant will help fund research on using human embryonic stem cell-derived GABAergic neurons for epilepsy therapy, which is being conducted by Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, Laura Grabel, Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, Professor of Biology, and Gloster Aaron, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior.

This grant was the largest single award to researchers in this year’s competition. Only 23 projects were selected to receive funds from a pool of 109 applicants.

“The potential to treat neurological disorders with human embryonic stem cell-derived neurons is enormous and relatively untested,” Naegele said. “The long-term goal of our research is to develop human stem cell-based cures for treating neurodegeneration, seizures and cognitive impairments in temporal lobe epilepsy.”

In patients who have an initial precipitating event, such as a head trauma, a severe seizure can cause a loss in inhibitory GABAergic interneurons. This, in turn, can dispose an otherwise normal brain to generate spontaneous seizures, a condition known as temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). These spontaneous seizures can further damage the hippocampus and lead to memory loss and other cognitive and emotional disturbances. Because nearly one-third of TLE patients are unable to control their seizures with drugs, Naegele, Grabel and Aaron are seeking novel, stem cell-based treatments for the disease.

They have developed methods for producing GABAergic progenitors from mouse and human embryonic stem cells. In their proposal for their grant, they proposed three projects to thoroughly evaluate grafts of these neurons in mice with temporal lobe epilepsy. In addition to the collaboration between the three Wesleyan labs, the researchers have established collaborations with colleagues at the University of Connecticut Health Center and the Yale University School of Medicine to provide additional expertise for this project.

Naegele Speaks on “Promises and Pitfalls on Stem Cell Therapy for Brain Disorders”

Jan Naegele

Jan Naegele

Jan Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, made two presentations in 2013. On March 12, she spoke on “Promises and Pitfalls of Stem Cell Therapy for Brain Disorders” at the 17th Annual Meeting for the Israeli Society for Biological Psychiatry in Kibbutz Hagoshrim, Israel.

On March 26, she spoke to the Middlesex Elderly Service Providers on “Stem Cell Therapy for Brain Disorders” in Middletown.

On June 11, Naegele will speak on “GABAergic interneuron replacement for temporal lobe epilepsy” at the University of California-Irvine.

Naegele Named 2013-14 ELATE at Drexel® Fellow

Jan Naegele is one of 19 women faculty in the country to receive a Drexel Fellowship.

Jan Naegele is one of 19 women faculty in the country to receive a Drexel Fellowship.

Jan Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, was named a 2013-14 ELATE (Executive Leadership in Academic Technology and Engineering) at Drexel® Fellow for the 2013-14 academic year.

Naegele and 18 other women faculty in science, technology, engineering and math fields, received the fellowship. They come from a range of universities and colleges across the country, many with global experience.

The ELATE at Drexel® Fellow program focuses on increasing personal and professional leadership effectiveness, leading and managing change initiatives within their institutions, using strategic finance and resource management to enhance the missions of their organizations, and creating a network of exceptional women. Facilitated by leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math research and leadership development, the curriculum includes classroom lessons and activities, online instruction and discussion, and on-the-job application at each fellow’s home institution.

In addition to learning about the financial planning and resource management in this program, each of the fellows has a project that they develop over the year-long program.

“While continuing the current support structure at the Center for Faculty Career Development, I will also develop new resources for minorities and women faculty, including workshops to assist junior faculty with their teaching and research,” Naegele said. “One topic to be addressed in workshops will focus on survival skills for junior science faculty as they set up their research laboratories, establish funded research programs, and recruit undergraduate and graduate students. Another will be to expand resources and mentoring to recruit and retain underrepresented minorities across the disciplines.”

The work for this second incoming class begins in May with online assignments and community building activities, and the program will conclude in March 2014 with a symposium organized around their projects. Naegele will begin the first of three week-long, in-residence sessions on July 31 at the ACE Conference Center in Lafayette Hill, Pa.

More more information visit Drexel’s website.

Naegele Received NIH Award for Epilepsy Research

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, received a $484,788 National Institutes of Health Academic Research Enhancement Award for her work on “Stem Cell Transplation for Epilepsy” in 2013.

Devoto’s Study Contributes to the Understanding of Birth Defects, Muscular Diseases

By studying a gene in zebrafish, Stephen Devoto and his students have a better understanding of what causes birth defects and diseases affecting human musculature.

Professor Stephen Devoto and his students have identified a gene that controls a critical step in the development of muscle stem cells in vertebrate embryos. This discovery will allow scientists to better understand the causes of birth defects and diseases affecting human musculature, such as Muscular Dystrophy, and opens doors for the development of effective stem cell therapies for such diseases. Devoto is professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.

The study, “Fss/ Tbx6 is required for central dermomyotome cell fate in zebra fish,” was published in July in Biology Open. Though the research was done on zebrafish, the gene, known as Tbx6, exists in all vertebrates, including humans. The lead author was graduate student Stefanie Windner. Other co-authors, all part of Devoto’s lab, were Devoto, post-docs Nathan Bird and Sara Patterson Ph.D. ’08, and lab manager Rosemarie Doris. Funding was provided, in part, by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development.

A number of undergraduate students also assisted in the research, and are extending this work further.

“Chantal Ferguson ’13 and Jaewon Chung ’13 are deeply involved in every step of research—from grant writing to discussing theories and models to doing experiments,” Devoto remarks. “They’re working side-by-side with graduate students and post-docs, part of the kind of research group typically seen only at research universities.”

For this paper, members of Devoto’s lab studied a mutant strain of zebrafish, which were missing a functional copy of the gene Tbx6. They observed that the embryos of these mutant fish had a defect in the dermomyotome—a tissue comprised of stem cells that can give rise to muscle fibers. These stem cells can either proliferate into other dermomyotome cells, or differentiate into muscle cells—which, themselves, cannot divide further. Thus, when the stem cells develop into muscle, they hit a dead end of sorts, precluding any additional muscle fibers from developing in the future. The group concluded that Tbx6 functions as a key part of the mechanism which either triggers the development of the dermomyotome, or inhibits the development of muscle.

“Tbx6 is a critical component of the switch that regulates the proportion of embryonic cells that become stem cells as opposed to muscle fibers,” explains Devoto.

Ribner ’14 Studying Spatial Navigation, Early Number Knowledge

University major Andrew Ribner ’14 is working in the Cognitive Development Lab this summer. He’s also a photographer, a campus tour guide and a baker.

Q&As with outstanding students is an occasional feature of The Wesleyan Connection. This issue we speak with Andrew Ribner from the Class of 2014.

Q: Andrew, you’re a rising junior, working toward a university major in educational psychology and learning theory and biology. Please explain what a university major is and why you chose this degree path.

A: A university major is essentially an interdisciplinary create-your-own major. It’s an option that isn’t very highly publicized, and is completely unique to each student who does it. It’s an intense application process that involves writing a formal proposal and four-year class schedule, finding three advisors who will support and recommend you to the committee, and justifying the necessity of the major. Essentially, it’s creating an entire unique department using classes that are already offered in other departments. For my university major, I’ll be investigating how children learn through a combination of psychology, sociology and neuroscience.

Q: This summer, you’re working in the Cognitive Development Lab with Anna Shusterman, assistant professor of psychology. Why did you want to spend your summer at Wesleyan?

A: I chose to stay at Wes this summer for a number of reasons. Anna is the primary advisor on my university major, and I’m planning to do an experimental thesis through her lab as it intersects with sociology. She recommended I stay this summer to get a start on my thesis research because she’s going to be on sabbatical in the fall and I need to start running participants while she’s out. I also just wanted to see what research was like and whether it’s something I enjoy—which it is.

5 Questions With . . . John Kirn on Songbird Neuroscience

John Kirn

John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of the neuroscience and behavior program, in May published an article in the Journal of Neuroscience on neurogenesis in songbirds. He recently spoke about his research on WNPR public radio and in The Hartford Courant

Q: Professor Kirn, you study the neuroscience behind song learning and production in zebra finches. Please tell us about your research, and the surprising findings to come out of your most recent work.

A: I’m interested in the normal functions of adult neurogenesis—the continual addition and replacement of neurons. This happens to a limited extent in humans but is very widespread in the brains of birds. It is a widely held view that this process helps us learn, because young neurons might be more malleable than older ones. In some songbirds, like the canary, the highest numbers of new neurons are added annually when birds are learning new song. But neurons are also added when song does not change.

In the zebra finch too, neuron addition is highest when they are juveniles, learning their song. But song learning is over by adulthood and yet new neurons are still added. Why? We think that neurogenesis may also function to preserve pre-existing knowledge. Our most recent work, though still only correlational, supports this notion. If you deafen an adult zebra finch, song structure breaks down, as is also true with human speech. We recently showed that birds that preserved their songs the longest after deafening also had the highest number of neurons added to a brain region that appears to be critical for the maintenance of song structure.

Q: What are the implications of these findings?

A: They might indicate that adult neurogenesis serves more than one purpose. Depending on the brain region and type of cell produced, perhaps in some cases it promotes the acquisition of new information, while in other cases, it promotes stability of older information.

Kirn’s Songbird Neuroscience Research Featured on WNPR, in Hartford Courant

John Kirn

John Kirn, professor of biology, professor and chair of the neuroscience and behavior program, was interviewed on WNPR public radio on June 25 about his research on neurogenesis, or the formation of new neurons, in the brains of zebra finches.

“The birds that had managed to preserve their songs the longest had the most new neurons, which was completely counter to our prediction. It suggests that maybe, at least in some cases and in some brain regions, new neurons are being added in order to preserve what’s already been learned,” Kirn said in the interview, describing the findings of his latest research published in the Journal of Neuroscience in May.

Kirn’s research was also highlighted in a feature story in The Hartford Courant. According to the article:

Birds can create new brain cells through most of their brains, while the creation of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, can occur in only a few regions of a mammal’s brain. Better understanding of how neurogenesis happens in birds’ brains, Kirn said, could lead to medical breakthroughs for humans.

“If we can understand how they manage to do this on the molecular level, it might give us some insights that we can use,” [Kirn] said, adding that stem therapy is one area that could benefit. “There’s something special about the bird brain that might be important in how we can create therapies for human brain damage,” he said.

Kurtz Delivers “Senior Voices” Baccalaureate Address

Matthew Kurtz, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, presented the “Senior Voices” baccalaureate address on May 26.

I want to start by thanking the class of 2012 for inviting me to speak at this baccalaureate celebration and permitting me to be part of these festivities. I am so happy for all of you! It’s been an honor for me to see you all mature over the past 4 years, see you become more confident in your ideas and thinking, more poised and subtle in the expression of your ideas, and more skilled in interacting with those around you, and watching students used to relaying the ideas of others, become adept at formulating their own ideas
This has been a class of many success stories, stories of individual accomplishment but this is the case with just about all Wesleyan classes. What makes this class so remarkable, and perhaps to some extent unique in its history, are the number of new non-profit organizations targeted at helping those in need around the globe—this class has helped turn Wesleyan into a truly global university.

I. Accomplishments- The formation of the MINDS organization. Started by a devoted cadre of highly committed class of 2012 students Raghu Appasani, the organization is dedicated to both the identification of and intervention with people with severe mental illness in rural India—severe depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia and substance abuse.

Kirn’s Neuron Research Published in Neuroscience Journals

John Kirn, professor of biology, chair and professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the co-author of three recent articles. They include:

“Adult neuron addition to the zebra finch song motor pathway correlates with the rate and extent of recovery from botox-induced paralysis of the vocal muscles,” published in the Journal of Neuroscience, 31(47): 16958-16968. Yi-Lo Yu ’03, MA ’04 co-authored this paper.

“Morphological plasticity in vocal motor neurons following song crystallization in the zebra finch,” published in the Journal of Comparative Neurology, Accepted manuscript online on April 2, 2012. DOI: 10.1002/cne.23120. Biology major Kathryn McDonald Ph.D. ’09 co-authored this article.

And “Adult neurogenesis is associated with the maintenance of a stereotyped, learned motor behavior,” published in the Journal of Neuroscience, 32(20): 7052–7057.

Naegele, Aaron, Grabel, Xu ’11, Litvina ’11 Published in Journal of Neuroscience

An article written by three Wesleyan faculty and two alumni was published in the January 2012 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, 32(1): pages 46-61.

In “Differentiation and functional incorporation of embryonic stem cell derived GABAergic interneurons in the dentate gyrus of mice with temporal lobe epilepsy,” the authors describe embryonic stem cell derived neuronal transplants for treating temporal lobe epilepsy.

The authors include Jan Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior; Gloster Aaron, assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of neuroscience; Laura Grabel, the Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science and Society, professor of biology;  Xu Maisano Ph.D. ’11; and Elizabeth Litvina B.A./M.A. ’11. Xu was the lead author. This study is part of a larger effort between three biology labs (Naegele, Aaron, and Grabel) to study embryonic stem cell therapies for temporal lobe epilepsy.

In this large, multi-year study, the authors show that embryonic stem cell derived neurons can develop into the major type in inhibitory neuron that degenerates in severe temporal lobe epilepsy. Because these interneurons reside in a part of the hippocampus that controls the spread of seizures throughout the cortex, when these neurons are injured or die off, seizures are able to spread throughout the hippocampus and into other brain regions, causing a more severe seizure.

“We believe that these findings are of high importance for developing stem cell based treatments for brain repair and regeneration,” Naegele explains.


CHUM Hosts (Your) Brain on Culture Workshop

Wesleyan faculty and students participated in the "(Your) Brain on Culture Workshop on Neuroscience and the Humanities" Sept. 23. The workshop provided an introduction to the principles and scientific status of contemporary cognitive neuroscience and an exploration of several theory models for neuro approaches to the humanities.

Matthew Kurtz, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, speaks on "Neuroscience: First Principles and Mechanisms of Interaction with Culture" during the workshop. At Wesleyan, Kurtz developed programs designed to chromate change in brain function. "These cognitive exercises are carefully titrated for task difficulty to, presumably, engage underfunctioning neural systems for promotion of neural reorganization," he explained.