Research & Faculty
Faculty associated with the NSIDP are very loosely organized into Focused Areas of Research (FAR). Faculty can belong to more than one FAR and FARs do not describe all of the research at UCLA. Collaborations between research groups are frequent and lead to many collaborative publications.
UCLA is internationally recognized for excellence in Addiction research, which represents a multidisciplinary and translational area of neuroscience research at UCLA. Research spans the fundamental bases of addiction from the genome to neural phenotypes and ultimately the syndrome. Ongoing programs focus on a variety of addictive disorders that include drug abuse (psychostimulants, opioids, alcohol and nicotine) and other addictions, and are supported within several NIH funded centers and training programs. The programs are particularly strong in molecular and cellular neurobiology, brain imaging, and behavioral neuroscience. Students in the Addiction FAR will join a highly interactive community where they will have the opportunity to participate in a number of seminars and courses.
LEARNING AND MEMORY
The goal of learning and memory research is to understand how we allocate, acquire, retain, and retrieve information. By its very nature, this research is integrative and cross-disciplinary, incorporating molecular, cell biological, systems and behavioral level approaches to study synapses, neurons, circuits, brains and behavior. UCLA is internationally recognized for the excellence of its research in learning and memory. Together, its outstanding faculty cover molecular to systems approaches to the study of memory, working in model systems ranging from Aplysia to mouse to humans. Students in the Learning and Memory FAR will become part of this interactive and energetic community with organized, well-attended scientific activities, including a long-standing weekly Learning and Memory Journal Club, an annual Southern California Learning and Memory Symposium, and a myriad of other events that highlight the strengths of this community. Additional new courses are being developed to further enrich the training opportunities.
NEURAL DEVELOPMENT, DEGENERATION, AND REPAIR
Neurological diseases and injuries are among the most debilitating medical conditions affecting millions of people each year. Few effective treatments for these disorders currently exist, in part because we know very little about the mechanisms underlying these conditions and how to prevent or repair neural damage. The Neural Development, Degeneration, and Repair FAR seeks to tackle this problem by providing training in three main areas: 1) Elucidating the cellular and molecular mechanisms that establish neural circuitry during embryonic and postnatal development, 2) Exploring mechanisms of aging and neurodegeneration caused by injury or diseases, and 3) Exploring ways in which neural tissue damage can be prevented or repaired. The Neural Development, Degeneration, and Repair FAR will draw upon the broad expertise at UCLA in the areas of stem cell differentiation, neural development, neurodegenerative diseases, plasticity and restoration of function after injury to the central nervous system. The faculty associated with the FAR includes basic and clinical scientists, many of whom bridge the gap between the laboratory and advances in therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s, as well as brain and spinal cord injuries. The Neural Development, Degeneration, and Repair FAR curriculum includes training in broad areas of cellular, molecular and system neuroscience, completed with specialized courses in Neural Development, Degeneration, and Repair, a weekly journal club focused on the current literature, weekly presentations by trainees and faculty, and seminars from renowned investigators in the field. Students are encouraged to explore areas at the junction of multiple fields, to use multiple technical approaches, and to engage in collaborations between laboratories. The Neural Development, Degeneration, and Repair FAR also will build upon the success of their NIH-sponsored Training Program in Neural Repair. The goal is to train a cadre of young investigators that are fully prepared for the changing culture of science while retaining a solid background in their main area of expertise.
NEUROENDOCRINOLOGY AND SEX DIFFERENCES
UCLA is an international leader in research and education in neuroendocrinology and sex differences. Our group studies two sets of factors, sex hormones and sex chromosomes, that influence neural function and disease differently in males and females. The research is profoundly integrative, relating biological mechanisms at the level of individual genes, cell and molecular networks, and neural circuits and physiology, to understand emergent phenotypes that underlie behavior, circadian rhythms, and disease. The study of brain sexual differentiation provides a conceptual framework for understanding reproduction as well as sex differences in disease processes.
Neurogenetics brings to bear the powerful tools of modern genetics and genomics to some of the most important and fascinating problems in all of biomedical sciences. UCLA is widely recognized as one of the leading centers of neurogenetics research. The breadth of the neurogenetics research program is extraordinary, ranging from investigations of invertebrate model systems within single laboratories to trans-disciplinary collaborative programs focused on complex human phenotypes, in the Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics. The Neurogenetics FAR is built around a well-established training structure and NIH-funded joint predoctoral and postdoctoral training programs in Neurobehavioral Genetics. These training programs exemplify the signature focus of the FAR; using genetics to integrate “neuro” and “behavioral” approaches to neuroscience investigation, with a particular emphasis on phenotyping of the nervous system-across systems from flies to humans-as a distinct scientific endeavor. Current faculty within the NIH-funded training programs represent a wide diversity of research interests and provide a broad range of opportunities for students. There is already an enormous level of interaction between faculty in the program, and this is enhanced by a yearly retreat, bi-monthly seminar series and a flexible core curriculum tailored to individual student backgrounds.
The Neuroimaging/Cognitive FAR is designed for students pursuing a professional career in neuroimaging, either in clinical practice or in neuroscience research. The multidisciplinary approach provides training in both basic science and technological principles of modern neuroimaging methods, and in their application to the understanding of neurological function and neurological disorders. The Neuroimaging/Cognitive FAR is comprised of a set of selected core and elective courses designed to provide students with a firm grounding in the theoretical, conceptual, and practical issues involved in studying the human and non-human brain using neuroimaging methods - from the molecular to whole brain human imaging. Core courses allow students to gain an understanding of the physiological principles underlying the types of imaging modalities commonly used to examine micro- and macro- brain structure and function as well as psychologically induced changes in physiological signals. The FAR includes research design and data analysis. Participants will obtain hands-on experience with data acquisition, processing, statistical analysis, and visualization through the use of leading edge graphical workflow environments and image processing software packages. Core courses emphasize the consideration of brain structure and function using modern medical imaging (e.g. MRI, PET, OIS, etc) and related neural recording techniques (e.g. EEG). Across these intensive courses, students will gain a full appreciation of the various cognitive factors that influence patterns of brain activation measured with functional imaging methods (e.g. BOLD, fMRI and PET) as well as becoming familiar with the effects of disease on brain anatomy and integrity. Students will gain exposure to neural tissue imaging methods (e.g. light, confocal, molecular, and related microscopy approaches), their application, and comparative strengths and limitations. At the completion of the Neuroimaging FAR, it is expected that participants will be fully prepared to critique, design, and participate in conducting research studies using a variety of neuroimaging methods; appreciate potentials and limitations of current neuroimaging methods and techniques; better understand the broad range of expertise required in a brain imaging research program; and be positioned well for careers in neuroimaging laboratory research.
SYNAPSES, CELLS, AND CIRCUITS
The Synapses, Cells, and Circuits FAR focuses on how the nervous system works by linking physiological mechanisms at the synaptic, cellular and circuit levels. Ultimately these efforts seek to understand in detail how synaptic function and plasticity, properties intrinsic to individual neurons, and microcircuit function converge to process information in different brain areas. Over the past decades neuroscience has elucidated basic principles underlying neuronal excitability and synaptic function. There also is increasingly accurate specification of the brain regions involved in particular behaviors through neuroimaging. However, due to technical challenges, relatively little research links these critical physiological levels. Bridging this gap will require the next generation of scientists to have expertise in neuronal cell biology, synaptic physiology, genetic approaches, and modern optical techniques. Given the breadth of neuroscience expertise at UCLA, this FAR is ideally positioned to lead research and training in this field.