Development, Genetics & Neuropharmacology

The human brain, in all its marvelous complexity, is the physical substrate of our thoughts and emotions, our desires and dislikes, our worries and fears, our hopes and dreams.  With it, we can sense, explore, create, innovate, and communicate.  Electrochemical signals that transmit information between interconnected neurons, or from neurons to muscles and organs, play a major role in how the brain functions on a millisecond time scale.  Other events can be retained for a lifetime—these can be associated with changes in the strength of synapses that create learning and memory. The formation of neuronal connections is a complex process that is initiated in the womb, enhanced throughout childhood and adolescence, and modified by experience, nutrition and the environment.  Perturbations during the development of the nervous system, due to environmental stressors and genetic predisposition, underlie a variety of neurological disorders such as autism, mental illness, and substance abuse.  Cognitive, behavioral, sensory, and motor disorders may ultimately be traced back to their origin as a structural abnormality or electrochemical imbalance.  Novel discoveries in neuroscience emerge from the study of both healthy and atypical animal models and humans, with the goal of progressing from bench to bedside to offer therapeutic interventions.  Scientists in this Program Area use the tools of developmental biology, genetics, chemistry, and psychology, combined with the expertise of others in the Institute who develop innovative technologies and devices, to advance understanding and treatment of congenital and physiological disorders of the nervous system.

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