Interdisciplinary neuroscience research focuses on how biological systems give rise to emotion, perception, behavior, language and thought. Research examines how the brain and nervous system develop and function in healthy individuals, as well as the contribution to psychological and neurological disorders.


Workers exposed to manganese in occupational settings, such as welding, may not see signs for years that the element is toxic to their nervous systems. Long-term manganese exposure can result in Parkinsonian symptoms. Medical imaging techniques developed by Ulrike Dydak could help reveal toxicity before symptoms appear. Dydak, associate professor in HEALTH SCIENCES, specializes in medical imaging of neurodegenerative diseases. Her research is funded by a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Her research is following both American and Chinese welders over a five-year period. She hopes to find a clear biomarker that shows when someone is at risk for developing Parkinsonian symptoms. “If we can improve medical imaging to observe specific changes in living human brain chemistry and observe these changes over the long run, it will help create a better understanding of this neurodegenerative disease and improve diagnostic and therapeutic tools,” she says.


Surprisingly little is known about the nerve circuits that the brain uses to monitor and control the stomach and the rest of the digestive system. As a result, obesity, eating disorders and gastrointestinal dysfunctions are treated with therapies developed largely by trial and error. “Understanding the two-way conversation the brain and stomach are having is a critical step toward addressing the obesity epidemic,” says Terry Powley, the Ben J. Winer Distinguished Professor of PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCES. In Powley’s laboratory, they are working to identify and study the circuits in order to design better treatments for disorders of ingestion and digestion. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the lab uses the latest cellular and molecular tools for tracing and imaging individual neurons and for investigating the neural circuits and networks that the brain uses to control the stomach and digestive system.


Parkinson’s disease has long been linked to a variety of possible environmental causes, and people whose occupations involve contact with pesticides appear to have an increased risk of developing the disease. In fact, only about 10 percent of Parkinson’s disease cases can be directly linked to inheritance, according to Jason Cannon, assistant professor in HEALTH SCIENCES. Funded by a career development award from the National Institutes of Health and the Showalter Trust, Cannon is developing new models to test interactions between environmental and genetic factors and also to test potential treatments. His team hopes to identify multifactorial causes, examining the critical role of environmental factors such as pesticides and dietary factors that may act on genetically predisposed individuals.

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