UTSA Neurosciences Institute

One UTSA Plaza San Antonio TX 78249

> Neurobiology Research Labs (presented alphabetically)

Apicella Lab - Brain Microcircuits 

Cortical microcircuits process sensory information to drive behavior. Deciphering how populations of neurons  encode information, generate perceptions, and execute behavioral decisions require working at both the cellular and system level.

Dr. Alfonso Apicella manipulates specific subsets of neurons in awake behaving mice by turning neurons 'ON' and 'OFF' using optogenetic and pharmacogenetic approaches. This allows quantitative understanding of how specific subsets of neurons contribute to sensory processing and behavior. Contact

Barea-Rodriguez Lab - The Aging Brain

Cognitive decline in aging may result from changes in cellular and molecular mechanisms. Aging is associated with oxidative stress, which may be the underlying cause of impairment in learning and memory.

Dr. Edwin Barea-Rodriguez seeks to understand how age-related oxidative changes affect the brain, and how resulting changes lead to impairment of physiological processes underlying learning and memory. Contact

Derrick Lab - Memory Modes in the Brain

The brain is essential for memory, suggesting there must be a physical change in the brain in order for a memory to persist over time. 

Dr. Brian Derrick investigates these changes, and how they are initiated in the brain memory structure called the hippocampus.  His lab is using combined pharmacological, physiological and behavioral techniques to understand the hippocampal transitions from the “recall” mode to the “encoding” mode, and how this is mediated by novelty. Contact

Gaufo Lab - Early Brain Patterning

During development, neurons are assigned their identities, migrate into the correct positions and establish the correct contacts along both the dorsal and ventral axes.  Cell fate markers can be used to identify neurons by origin and follow them through  migration and maturation.  

Dr. Gary Gaufo is working out how evolutionarily conserved patterning programs are integrated to generate functional and cellular complexity in vertebrates.  By tinkering with axial patterning programs, he is deciphering the converging mechanisms that control stem cell fate in order to understand and develop interventions for birth defects and disease. Contact

Hsieh Lab - Stem Cell Models of Disease 

Neural stem cells self-new throughout life, facilitating key brain functions like learning, memory formation, and mood regulation.  Disruptions in the precise patterning, differentiation and integration of stem cells in adult brains can initiate disease processes and dysfunction.  

Dr. Jenny Hsieh works on the genetic mechanisms that control and regulate neural stem cells. Using various models of brain dysfunction such as epilepsy, stroke, and traumatic brain injury, she is dissecting how stem cells underlie disease propagation and can be leveraged for therapeutic interventions. Contact

Jaffe Lab - Neurons as Information Processors

Neurons convey and process information within the brain. Their function is determined to a large extent by how they convert a spectrum of spatial and temporal patterns of stimulation into an electro-chemical response.  

Dr. David Jaffe uses a combination of computer modeling and experimentation to explore how neurons, and networks of neurons, filter and process information in normal and diseased states, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and pain processing. Contact

Lee Lab - Cell Cycle and Degeneration

Neurodegenerative diseases cause neuronal death, but how? Neurons are non-proliferative, meaning their cell-cycle is arrested; perhaps accidental activation of the cell-cycle sets them on a course to die.

Dr. Hyoung-gon Lee’s research hypothesizes that cell cycle re-entry in the CNS is a key pathogenic mechanism in neurodegeneration. He is using transgenic mouse models to dissect and understand what might trigger cell cycle activation and whether this event bears any causal relationship with neurodegeneration like that observed in Alzheimer’s disease. Contact

Lin lab- From Stem Cell to Neuron

Stem cells can differentiate into particular types of neurons dependent on cell cycle, genetic/epigenetic regulators, and signaling pathways.  Errors in stem cell differentiation and migration can cause developmental abnormalities and tumors.

Dr. Annie Lin is identifying the factors that regulate stem cells as they become functional neurons. She uses animal models, various molecular biology techniques, and high-throughput genome-wide analyses to understand stem cells in order to develop therapies for degenerative conditions like Parkinson's Disease, and for cancer. Contact

Macpherson lab- Investigating Taste from Tongue to Brain

Taste is an ancient sensory system that is highly conserved across animal species, and fundamental to survival.  We’re all intimately familiar with our own sense of taste: sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and umami (savory). But how is taste information conveyed from the tongue to the brain?

Dr. Lindsey Macpherson uses a combination of mouse genetics, in vivo functional imaging, and behavioral analysis to investigate and manipulate the wiring of gustatory circuits at the cellular and molecular level.  Contact

Maroof lab- Cortical Fate Specification & Disease Pathogenesis

Aging, injury, and disease result in cortical neuron dysfunction, with specific neuronal subgroups being susceptible to toxicity and death.

Dr. Asif Maroof uses transgenic technology and human stem cells to study the molecular pathways underlying neurodegenerative processes. He is determining stem cell fate specification and maturation into functional circuits. His research is fundamental to building the next generation of cell-based therapies and assays for a wide array of neurological disorders and diseases. Contact

Muzzio lab- Memory Integration

The hippocampus plays a crucial role in encoding and retrieval of episodic memories.  These representations are used to generate a cognitive map that is crucial for navigation and providing a spatial context for events.

Dr. Isabel Muzzio’s lab studies how the brain forms representations of the external world during navigation by combining long-term single cell recordings in freely moving mice with pharmacological, genetic, behavioral, and computational tools. Contact

Paladini lab- The Neurophysiology of Delight and Disappointment

Midbrain dopaminergic neurons must integrate information from memory, sensory inputs, and cognitive state to produce signals that direct motivated behaviors. How do these cells gain access to all this information?  Drugs of abuse hijack this system to change reward-seeking behavior, but how?

Dr. Carlos Paladini studies the electrical activity of dopamine neurons to understand how they integrate information from various brain pathways, and considers how drugs of abuse can alter the signals arriving at these neurons. The insights gained are then used to determine if the observed changes in identified inputs are a causal influence on reward-related behaviors in rodents. Contact

Santamaria Lab - The Geometry of Communication

There are hundreds of types of neurons in the brain, and each kind has its own unique shape and complexity.  The specialization of neuron shape suggests that neuronal geometry is critical to the function of each cell type in its circuit.

Dr. Fidel Santamaria combines theory, computation and experiments to study how structure affects integration of electrical and biochemical intracellular signals. His work spans studies from nanoscopic volumes within a single dendritic spines to the emergent behavior of the interaction of electric conductances and structure on entire neurons. Contact

Suter Lab - Integration and Oscillations in the Neurobiology of Reproduction

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons in the hypothalamus control sexual behavior. Their release of GnRH is controlled by synaptic inputs from other parts of the brain.  GnRH neurons simplify their shape into a linear dendritic structure during puberty, but still remain able to filter and integrate information from various inputs to regulate sexual reproduction. 

Dr. Kelly Suter examines the electrical signals of GnRH neurons to determine how synaptic inputs along the linear dendrite control the decision to fire and release hormone.   The coordinated oscillation of these neurons controls the onset of puberty and regulates fertility. Contact

Troyer Lab - Neuronal Clocks and Coding

The brain is an organ for generating behavior.  So in a sense, behavior holds the key to understanding the brain.  Since neural and behavioral events unfold over the same units of time, temporal analysis can be a powerful way to understand how the brain builds behavior.  

Dr. Todd Troyer uses learned birdsongs, which are sequences of precisely timed utterances driven by neuronal activity, as a kind of “Rosetta Stone” for decoding the neural signals that command learned behavior. His lab uses computational models to bridge the neural and behavioral levels of analysis.  Contact

Wanat Lab - The Neurobiology of Motivated Behavior

Motivation is critically important in influencing our decisions and actions in our daily lives and is thought to involve the neurotransmitter dopamine. These motivational processes can be altered in psychiatric disorders such as drug addiction, where an addict has increased motivation to seek out drugs. 

Dr. Matt Wanat studies the function of the dopamine system in rodents, both under normal conditions and in models of drug addiction and depression.  His research employs both in vitro and in vivo experiments, including using voltammetry to record dopamine release with a subsecond temporal resolution in behaving rodents. Contact

Wicha Lab - The Bilingual Brain

We understand speech at a rate of 3 words/second.  In order to keep up with this lightning pace, the brain might predict words based on context.  If the brain predicts, language processing would be quick when predictions are correct, but slowed when predictions are wrong.  

Dr. Nicole WIcha studies prediction and language processing in the bilingual brain. The moment at which meaning is extracted from words can be seen in brain waves.  She uses these as a tool to examine how the bilingual brain processes meaning in two languages simultaneously, and whether the languages interfere or interact. Contact

Wilson Lab - Cellular Computation in the Basal Ganglia

The brain generates and transmits electrical signals among neurons that control our muscles and movements.  Parkinson’s disease results from a loss in midbrain dopamine neurons, but its symptoms result from pathological electrical signals created and communicated among the cells that remain. 

Dr. Charles Wilson uses mathematical models, cell-specific stimulation and electrophysiology to understand the computational functions embedded in the electrical signals of the subcortical motor structures known as the basal ganglia, and their path to dysfunction in Parkinson’s Disease.  His work is informing the next generation of Deep Brain Stimulation therapy for Parkinson's patients. Contact