EVERY FIVE YEARS SINCE ITS ESTABLISHMENT IN 1999, the neuroscience major has alternated between the College of Life Sciences and the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences. However, as of July 1, 2021, students and faculty will no longer need to adjust to the rotating administration as the Neuroscience Center will permanently reside in the College of Life Sciences.
“We are pleased to have the Neuroscience Center and major permanently reside in our life sciences community,” says Dean James P. Porter, College of Life Sciences. “It is a natural fit with our existing programs, faculty focus, and students’ interests.”
Historically, shifting the neuroscience program every five years created difficulties for students, particularly those already in their program. Each transition in administrative oversight had a ripple effect on the students as they had a change in academic advisors, scholarship opportunities, and college convocation.
“We found there were some growing pains with rotating that we didn’t anticipate,” says Dean Porter, who was present at the inception of the major.
According to Dr. Jeffrey Edwards, the new director of the Neuroscience Center and professor of physiology, students’ needs were at the forefront of the decision to establish a permanent home for the neuroscience major. “With the rotating schedule, students felt more up in the air, or homeless in a sense,” he says. “So, the goal was to make a permanent home where the students would feel more supported.”
A survey distributed to former and current neuroscience students in January of 2020 indicated their preference for which college should house the program. Ninety-one percent of former students and 80 percent of current students identified the College of Life Sciences as their choice for the Neuroscience Center’s permanent affiliation.
Anna Everett (‘22), a senior neuroscience major, says, “I feel like our major is more geared towards the life sciences, so it will be nice having access to the life sciences advisement office and all the college resources.”
The neuroscience major is unique in that its affiliated faculty do not belong to a single department. Instead, they come from various departments throughout the university, such as psychology, cell biology and physiology, mechanical engineering, and communication disorders. Although the administrative oversight of the Neuroscience Center will now reside in the College of Life Sciences, maintaining the interdisciplinary nature of the neuroscience program is vital.
“I’m eager to see the neuroscience program become established in the College of Life Sciences so that students can flourish without the disruptive administrative change every five years,” Edwards says. “And so that neuroscience faculty from around campus will feel engaged and continue their important research with these undergraduates."
THE NEUROSCIENCE CENTER HAS CONDUCTED SIGNIFICANT RESEARCH OVER THE YEARS. READ A FEW HIGHLIGHTS DIRECTLY FROM THE LABS
Incredibly, our brains have the ability to sense our surroundings and immediately produce appropriate behavioral responses. But how do they do it? A region of the brain called the superior colliculus is responsible for sensing our surroundings and producing behavioral responses. It is hypothesized that dysfunction within this region contributes to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. However, not much is known about the types of cells that exist in this region of the brain and their functions in regulating behavior. The Suli Lab is currently working to identify the different cell types in this region in zebrafish larvae to determine the cell’s function in the perception and processing of surrounding stimuli and subsequent motor movement. This research has implications for understanding neurodevelopmental disorders and neurological behavior at large.
Autism spectrum disorder affects approximately one in every 54 children. It is associated with higher rates of anxiety and depression and, consequently, a higher rate of suicidality. Individuals with autism are over three times more likely than others to attempt or die by suicide. Using multiple measures of behavior and neurophysiology over six to nine months, the South Lab is currently exploring whether someone’s risk for suicidal thoughts and actions can be predicted. This research aims to improve recognition of suicidality and improve mental health in individuals with autism.
Sleep plays an essential role in improving mental health. Sleep disorders, such as insomnia, are strongly associated with depression and other mood disorders. The Kay Lab focuses on how regional differences in the brain affect sleep. Using brain imaging techniques, the lab is currently exploring whether these regional differences are predictive of daytime function, mood, and cognition, and vice versa. This research suggests that engaging in brain activity and mindfulness can help us sleep better, which also has implications for treating sleep and mood disorders.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a debilitating neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Because the brain develops rapidly in the beginning years of life, early diagnosis is essential for facilitating optimal social-behavioral outcomes. Individuals with ASD have unique gut microbiota profiles. The Lundwall Lab, in collaboration with the Chaston (Plant and Wildlife Studies) and Weber (Microbiology and Molecular Biology) labs, is exploring whether gut microbiota composition in infants is predictive of ASD development. This research has direct application to developing microbiota-based screening tests to improve both ASD diagnostics and quality of life for individuals with the disorder
Drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and heroin increase the release of dopamine, a chemical responsible for learning reward associations in the brain. When dopamine is released, it is quickly cleared through transporters on dopamine neurons to prevent toxic accumulation. Dopamine transport in the striatum, a brain region involved in addiction, is very well characterized in males. The Yorgason Lab is currently exploring how these processes are different in females. This research has broad implications for understanding and treating addiction based on differences in sex