UTSA NEUROSCIENCES INSTITUTE

Vanessa Cerda (PhD Advisor: Nicole Wicha, PhD)

Reorientation is a universal navigational process that adapts nimbly across contexts in healthy brains but is impaired in aging and neurodegenerative disease. This award seeks to define whether spatial representations within the retrosplenial cortex (RSC) play a dominant role in the process of reorientation and how these inputs might be overridden to allow for more efficient reorientation strategies when spatial cues are ambiguous. Using a transdisciplinary arsenal of computational analyses, behavioral experiments, optogenetic manipulations, in vivo electrophysiology and calcium imaging, Celia is determining how environments are represented in the RSC at the population and single-cell level.  Moreover, at the circuit-level, she is discovering the real-time impact of hippocampal GABAergic inhibition to RSC as animals' strategies for reoriention across ambiguous contexts.

National Institutes of Health F31EY031582

Retrosplenial representations of space and hippocampal circuitry underlying orientation

This proposal investigates how the bilingual brain processes foundational knowledge that is thought to be affected by the unique experience of being bilingual, including memorized multiplication facts and basic scientific concepts. The outcome of this research will help determine how bilingual children learn and use foundational knowledge in each of their languages, as well as define the relationship between language, development, and bilingualism.

National Institutes of Health F99NS124178

The effect of language experience on bilingual processing of arithmetic & other memorized facts

Tara Flaugher (PhD Advisor: Nicole Wicha, PhD)

Celia Gagliardi (PhD Advisor: Isabel Muzzio, PhD)

Tara’s research focuses using neuroimaging and behavioral techniques to understand how TBI impacts language comprehension and production. As a future cognitive neuroscientist at Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific (NIWC Pacific), Tara will continue to research human performance and the brain to inform tactical technologies and improve autonomous systems performance. Additionally, her veteran status will allow her effectively communicate with both military service members and civilian scientists to gain valuable operator feedback, yielding a warfighter advantage over adversaries in all environments.

Department of Defense SMART Scholarship, Pat Tillman Scholarship

Morgan Johnston (PhD Advisor: Matt Wanat, PhD)

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program award

The motivation to seek and work for food rewards is conserved across all mammals. It is dynamically controlled by physiological signals, some of which change throughout the estrous cycle. In particular, female rats display greater motivation to work for rewards while in estrus relative to diestrus. Motivation is controlled by ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine neurons that project to the nucleus accumbens core (NAc). Furthermore, VTA dopamine neurons exhibit a higher firing rate during estrus relative to diestrus. These effects of the estrous cycle on motivation and dopamine neuron firing are likely mediated by cycling hormones. One candidate is oxytocin, which is present in higher levels during estrus and lower levels during diestrus. In support, in vitro studies indicate that oxytocin increases the excitability of VTA dopamine neurons. Taken together, I propose oxytocin in the VTA mediates the cycle-dependent changes in dopamine release and motivation. I will address this by utilizing in vivo fast-scan cyclic voltammetry recordings of dopamine release in the NAc, coupled with pharmacological manipulations of oxytocin signaling throughout the estrous cycle.

James Jones (PhD Advisor: Charles Wilson, PhD)

National Institutes of Health F31NS127499

Neuron heterogeneity and network dynamic control of synaptic responses in the external globus pallidus

It is the rate and pattern of spikes by which signals are encoded in neurons, the axon by which signals travel, and the synapse by which signals are communicated between neurons. Synaptic networks of neurons in the healthy brain produce stable spatiotemporal patterns of spiking which encode sensory signals and send motor signals. The external globus pallidus (GPe) is a synaptic network of autonomous oscillator neurons and an intersection of two opposing motor pathways in the basal ganglia. Neurons in the GPe can receive synaptic inputs from striatal projection neurons of either the direct and indirect pathways of the basal ganglia, which traditionally produce competing motor signals. GPe neurons also provide one another with ongoing input streams via local axon collaterals, a direct means of crosstalk between the two motor pathways. James' research aims to determine how the GPe network produces its own spatiotemporal pattern of firing through ongoing local inhibition, and how competing striatal signals are transformed by the GPe network.