Program Faculty

Alfonso Araque, PhD (Professor, Department of Neuroscience): Dr. Araque’s research program focuses on studying the properties and physiological consequences of the communication between neurons and astrocytes, aiming to understand its role in physiological and pathological aspects of brain function. Dr. Araque has been a successful mentor for undergraduate students, graduate students and postdocs. Coming from Spain to the United States, Dr. Araque has been a teacher and mentor to a diverse group of students; culturally, ethnically and in nationality. Dr. Araque is a co-PD for our NINDS R25 summer undergraduate research program.

Lihsia Chen, PhD (Associate Professor, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development): Dr. Chen studies the ways in which cell adhesion is essential to the development of nervous system, from neuronal migration to axon guidance and synapse formation, as well as the maintenance of neural integrity against environmental forces. To understand how cell adhesion molecules function in such a wide spectrum of events, her lab focuses on the L1 family of cell adhesion receptors, using genetic, molecular, and biochemical approaches to dissect their functions and mechanisms of action. Mutations in the human L1CAMs can result in numerous neurological syndromes that include the L1 syndrome and autism. Dr. Chen has effectively mentored graduate students and postdocs, and has been an active mentor in our NINDS R25 summer undergraduate research program.

Marija Cvetanovic, PhD (Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience): Dr. Cvetanovic studies how different brain cells and their interactions influence the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases. The ultimate goal is to increase knowledge of these disorders and open new avenues for therapeutic approaches. The primary focus has been on spinocerebellar ataxia type 1. She has mentored a wide range of students, including those in our NINDS R25 summer undergraduate research program.

Timothy Ebner, MD/PhD (Professor and Head, Department of Neuroscience): Dr. Ebner studies how single neurons and populations of neurons encode the information needed to plan and execute limb movements. The goal is to decipher how the brain represents different movement parameters and then uses this information to control movements. His lab investigates how the cerebellar circuit functions and how synaptic plasticity modifies circuit properties to examine abnormalities in the cerebellar cortex in the spinocerebellar and episodic ataxias. Dr. Ebner is a co-PD for our NINDS R25 summer undergraduate research program.

Rocio Gomez-Pastor, PhD (Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience): Dr. Gomez-Pastor is also from Spain and has mentored a diverse group of students, including those from the NINDS R25 summer research program. Dr. Gomez-Pastor studies the molecular pathways that drive protein aggregation and neuronal death in Huntington´s Disease (HD), an inherited neurodegenerative disease characterized by severe motor and cognitive decline. She examine the role of Heat Shock Factor (HSF1), a transcription factor that regulates protein folding, inflammation, and apoptosis. The final goal is to provide new therapeutic strategies to prevent neuronal death and ameliorate disease symptoms.

Matthew Johnson, PhD (Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering): Dr. Johnson’s research focuses on developing and translating neuromodulation technologies for the treatment of neurological disorders. The research focus is on understanding how the brain responds and adapts to stimulation-based therapies from a combination of experimental and computational perspectives. In all, the research will develop new types of neuromodulation strategies for treating movement disorders that are inspired by the underlying neuroscience of therapeutic deep brain stimulation.

Aaron Kerlin, PhD (Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience):Dr. Kerlin uses advanced two-photon microscopy techniques to understand how dendritic compartments and individual synapses within the motor cortex are modified as mice learn to perform new tasks. His recent work has identified a distinct loop between cortex and thalamus that maintains motor plans in the absence of overt action. By tracking and manipulating dendritic activity while monitoring the kinematics of action, his lab can determine the critical subcellular loci for the learning of new motor plans. Clarifying the biophysical events that drive normal plasticity will help us identify ways to shift cortical plasticity into regimes that favor the improvement of cognitive motor disorders or rehabilitation after damage to motor systems.

Paulo Kofuji, PhD (Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience): Dr. Kofuji’s research aims to elucidate the role of inwardly rectifying potassium channels for glial cell function. His laboratory has established the essential role of Kir4.1 channel in mouse retina for the buffering of extracellular potassium concentration. More recently they have been investigating the role of accessory proteins for the modulation and subcellular localization of Kir4.1 channels in Müller cells. In this regard they have identified a potential macromolecular complex that hold this cluster together.  This research addresses the question of why mutations in Kir4.1 channel lead to neurological symptoms such as epilepsy, hearing loss and ataxia.

Esther Krook-Magnuson, PhD (Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience): Dr. Krook-Magnuson studies how neuronal networks, diversity, and specificity of function are important to neurological disorders, including epilepsy. In this regard, key questions remain in epilepsy research, including what are the principal networks, conditions, and cell types involved in initiating, sustaining, propagating, terminating, and potentially suppressing, seizures. By improving the understanding of these processes, the prospects of someday reaching the goal of no seizures, no side effects, for all epilepsy patients can be achieved. Dr. Krook-Magnuson has mentored a range of graduate students and postdocs, and has mentored students from the NINDS R25 summer research program.

Sylvain Lesne, PhD (Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience): Dr. Lesne studies how soluble, non-fibrillar amyloid-beta (Aβ) assemblies, also called Aβ oligomers, may represent the bioactive molecules involved in the physiopathology of Alzheimer's disease-related neuronal dysfunction and memory impairment. His laboratory is examining whether and how Aβ oligomers can interact at neuronal plasma membranes with specific receptors involved in the cellular form of memory by combining biochemical and functional assays. Dr. Lesne has mentored graduate students, postdocs, and students from the NINDS R25 undergraduate summer research program. He is the Associate Director of Graduate Studies for the Graduate Program in Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota.

Ling Li, DVM/PhD (Professor, Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology): Dr. Li’s research program is focused on the pathophysiological and therapeutic connections between Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease using transgenic/knockout mouse models. Her lab employs a combination of molecular, cellular, electrophysiological, and behavioral approaches in the research. A key focus is on the role of apolipoprotein A-I, a major protein component of the cardioprotective high-density lipoproteins, and other apolipoproteins in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Li has mentored graduate students and postdocs. She is also the Associate Head of the Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology.

Wensheng Lin, PhD (Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience): Dr. Lin’s research is focused on understanding the effects of the unfolded protein response on neurological diseases and their underlying mechanisms. Endoplasmic reticulum stress, initiated by the accumulation of unfolded or misfolded proteins in the endoplasmic reticulum lumen, activates an adaptive program known as the unfolded protein response, which coordinates endoplasmic reticulum protein-folding demand with protein-folding capacity and is essential to preserve cell function and survival under stressful conditions. Dr. Lin’s studies could provide mechanistic insight necessary for designing novel therapeutic strategies for patients with these diseases. Dr. Lin has experience mentoring both postdocs and students in the NINDS R25 undergraduate summer research program.

Walter Low, PhD (Professor, Department of Neurosurgery): Dr. Low’s research focuses on translating neuroscience developments from the laboratory to the clinic. He is involved in a number of technologies that include neural progenitor/stem cell therapies, gene therapies, neuroprotective therapies, and medical devices for treating a variety of neurological conditions. Dr. Low’s neurological disorders of interest include ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors,

Alzheimer’s disease, and developmental disorders of the brain. Dr. Low has trained graduate students and postdocs and will be an excellent mentor to participants studying disease processes from bench to bedside.

Mark Masino, PhD (Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience): Dr. Masino studies pattern generators which have, at their core, rhythmically active neurons or neural networks. The study of these pattern generators has yielded insight not only into the origins of rhythmic activity, but also into the functioning and modulation of neural networks in general. Dr. Masino’s primary interest is to understand how spinal circuits are structurally and functionally organized to generate different rhythmic motor patterns, with an eye towards treating spinally-mediated movement disorders. Dr. Masino is experienced in training both graduate students and postdocs, and has mentored students in the NINDS R25 undergraduate summer research program.

Theoden Netoff, PhD (Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering): Dr. Netoff is interested in discovering basic mechanisms of epilepsy. They take an electrophysiological approach to the disease to understand the dynamics of the neurons and their interactions to understand how seizures, a network phenomenon, are generated. Using a computer interfaced to the neuron through the amplifier, known as a dynamic clamp, they can also simulate changes in neurons that can occur following a seizure. The dynamic clamp can also be used to introduce virtual synapses between real neurons or with virtual neurons simulated on the computer. To study the behavior of networks of neurons during a seizure they are turning to optical imaging techniques.

Eric Newman, PhD (Professor, Department of Neuroscience): Research in Dr Newman’s laboratory focuses on the physiology of glial cells and on interactions between glia, neurons and blood vessels in the central nervous system. They have demonstrated that astrocytes and Müller cells, the two macroglial cells of the retina, generate both spontaneous and neuron-evoked calcium signals.  These calcium signals, in turn, lead to the release of transmitters from glial cells, resulting in the modulation of neuronal excitability.  They are currently studying how these glial signals affect information processing in the retina and how pathology affects glial calcium signaling.

Harry Orr, PhD (Professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology): Dr. Orr studies mechanisms underlying the development and aging of neurons in the cerebellum. His lab discovered that an expanded CAG trinucleotide repeat causes spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1). Dr. Orr established the first transgenic mouse model of a polyglutamine neurodegenerative disease and uses it to elucidate SCA1 pathogenesis. Finally, Dr. Orr demonstrated the importance of nuclear localization of the mutant protein for pathogenesis and demonstrated that sequences beyond the CAG expansion are critical for selectivity of neuronal susceptibility. Dr. Orr is experienced in mentoring graduate students and postdocs, and has mentored students in the NINDS undergraduate summer research program. Dr. Orr is the Director of the Institute for Translational Neuroscience.

Rita Perlingeiro, PhD (Professor, Department of Medicine and Stem Cell Institute): Dr. Perlingeiro has a long-standing interest in understanding the molecular mechanisms controlling lineage-specific differentiation of pluripotent stem cells (i.e., embryonic and adult reprogrammed stem cells). She applies this information to efficiently generate tissue-specific stem/progenitor cells endowed with in vivo regenerative potential. The ultimate goal of Dr. Perlingeiro’s research program is to develop safe strategies to enable the future therapeutic application of stem cells to neurologic disease.

Patrick Rothwell, PhD (Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience): The goal of research in Dr. Rothwell’s lab is to identify the causes of disorders of the brain, and develop interventions to restore healthy function using synaptic plasticity and neuromodulation. His lab focuses on the striatum, and other brain region important for both simple and complex movements and cognitive functions. The laboratory’s multidisciplinary approach includes quantitative analysis of gene expression; genetic and molecular manipulations of neural circuits; measurement of synaptic function and plasticity using electrophysiology; and optogenetic stimulation of circuits in brain slices and behaving animals. Current focuses are on on autism spectrum disorders and drug addiction - two brain conditions that affect overlapping elements of striatal circuitry.

Jerrold Vitek, MD/PhD (Professor and Chair, Department of Neurology): Dr. Vitek is interested in understanding the pathophysiological basis for the development of Parkinson's disease and dystonia. His specialty is in exploring the mechanisms underlying the therapeutic effect of DBS, clinical trials examining the effect of DBS for the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disease, and exploring new applications and brain targets for DBS for neurological and psychiatric disorders. As a physician-scientist Dr. Vitek has considerable experience mentoring graduate students and postdocs, as well as residents. He will be an excellent resource for any participants who are physician-scientists themselves, as well as participants with a clinical research focus.

Keith Vossel, MD (Associate Professor, Department of Neurology): Dr. Vossel studies Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and related dementias in transgenic mouse models as well as in human clinical trials. The goal of the laboratory investigation is to discover therapies that target novel aspects of the tau protein in the biology of AD. Clinical investigation focuses on silent seizures in AD and includes a phase 2a trial of an antiseizure drug to treat AD-associated network hyperexcitability. As part of this study, his laboratory is developing biomarkers of network dysfunction in AD using overnight magnetoencephalography recordings.