Research Seminars

The Center for Neural Engineering hosts a variety of seminars throughout the academic year to expose students to relevant work in the field. Upcoming seminars and those from the recent past are listed below.

April 19, 2023

Research at the Machine-Brain-Interface: mice, men, microsystems and machines

Thomas Stieglitz, PhD, Chair for Biomedical Microtechnologies and Managing Director of IMTEK, University of Freiburg

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: Research on neuroscience and neurotechnology needs expertise from various disciplines. The University of Freiburg has set up a center of “intelligent machine brain interfacing technologies” (IMBIT) to promote research the interfaces between disciplines, because innovation requires the interplay of complementary knowledge and skills. At IMBIT, researchers from biology, medicine, engineering and computer sciences are conducting research side by side - to develop tools that will help us better understand how the brain works in fundamental studies and to translate this knowledge into interfaces between humans and machines in order to develop better treatment methods. Areas of research at IMBIT currently cover aspects of fundamental neuroscience (NeuroCore), neurotechnological tools (NeuroProbes) and robotics and machine learning (NeuRobotics). Examples from the NeuroProbes field on miniaturized neural implants will be presented. They cover electrode arrays for signal recording from the brain and peripheral nerve electrode arrays applying electrical stimuli to deliver sensory feedback after amputation. Systems assembly, longevity and also some regulatory affairs aspects are boundary conditions that have been addressed during device development. Research results on these arrays will be presented and discussed with a focus on the reliability of microsystems in translational research. Studies on gait analysis after amputation complement this research to achieve insights how sensory feedback should be delivered based on movement representation and control.

Bio: Thomas Stieglitz was born in Goslar in 1965. He received a Diploma degree in electrical Engineering from Technische Hochschule Karlsruhe (now KIT), Germany, in 1993, and a PhD and habilitation degree in 1998 and 2002 from the University of Saarland, Germany, respectively. In 1993, he joined the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering in St. Ingbert, Germany, where he established the Neural Prosthetics Group. Since 2004, he is a full professor for Biomedical Microtechnology at the Albert-Ludwig-University Freiburg, Germany, in the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) at the Faculty of Engineering and currently serves the IMTEK as managing director, is deputy spokesperson of the BrainLinks-BrainTools Center, board member of the Intelligent Machine Brain Interfacing Technology (IMBIT) Center and spokesperson of the profile neuroscience / neurotechnology of the university.

He is further serving the university as member of the senate and as co-spokesperson of the commission for responsibility in research. His research interests include neural interfaces and implants, biocompatible assembling and packaging and brain machine interfaces. Dr. Stieglitz has co- authored about 170 peer reviewed journal publications, 330 conference proceedings and holds about 30 patents. He is co-founder and scientific consultant of CorTec GmbH and neuroloop GmbH, two spin-off companies which focus on neural implant technology and neuromodulation, respectively. Dr. Stieglitz is Fellow of the IEEE and serves the EMBS in the neuroethics group as well as the technical committee of neural engineering, the German Biomedical Engineering Society (DGBMT im VDE) where he is chair of the Neural Prostheses and Intelligent Implants section, the Materials Research Society. He is also founding member of the International Functional Electrical Stimulation Society (IFESS).

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April 12, 2023

Neural Population Interactions Between Cortical Areas

Matthew Smith, PhD, Biomedical Engineering and Carnegie Mellon Neuroscience Institute

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: Neural activity observed within a brain area may reflect local computations within the area, inputs from another area, or shared computations/inputs across many areas. Ideally, these distinct mechanisms could be studied separately. However, because multiple processes can influence groups of neurons, it is not obvious how to separate the neural signals that should be attributed to each process. We investigated the different behavioral roles of neural variability shared across hemispheres and neural variability local to each hemisphere. To do this, we applied dimensionality reduction methods to bilateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) array recordings. We were able to identify latent variables representing activity shared across hemispheres, as well as latent variables representing activity local to each hemisphere. We found that variability shared across hemispheres was dominated by a process that slowly evolved across trials and was highly correlated with trial-to-trial fluctuations in mean pupil diameter - a potentialneuralcorrelate of fluctuations in arousal. By decoding this signal from neuronal population activity, we were able to predict a constellation of aspects of the animal's task and eye movement behavior. Overall, our work demonstrates how distributed cognitive processes and states can be hidden in subtle shifts in the responsivity of individual neurons, but accessed and decoded from simultaneously recorded populations of neurons.

Bio: Matt Smith’s core interest lies in understanding the brain’s mechanisms for interpreting visual inputs, processing them, and generating motor outputs. His work merges a host of backgrounds, from computational approaches to electrophysiology, to better understand how groups of neurons give rise to visual perception, cognition, and action.

Smith is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and the Carnegie Mellon Neuroscience Institute. He was a recipient of a NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independent Award and a Career Development Award from Research to Prevent Blindness. His work has been funded by the NIH, NSF, Research to Prevent Blindness, Schaffer Foundation for Glaucoma Research, and Hillman Foundation.

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March 29, 2023

Cortical Computations for Postural Control: Developing a BMI for Paraplegia

Karen Moxon, PhD, Professor Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: Gait and balance disturbances are common, difficult to treat despite rehabilitation, and a cause of significant morbidity and mortality. Spinal cord injury is a common cause of gait and postural instability and, although it is defined pathologically as damage to spinal cord circuits, changes in supraspinal centers, and specifically the cortex, have been shown to be critical for improvement of function. Moreover, closed-loop brain-machine interfaces (CL- BMI) that use cortical signals to control spinal stimulation, have been suggested as an intervention to restore locomotion for paraplegia. However, all CL-BMI rely on lateral support systems to enable subjects to maintain balance while the spinal stimulation restores the stereotypic gait cycle. To address this, we studied the computations the brain performs to control balance and assessed the ability of using a cortical BMI to provide specific control signals to spinal stimulation that would enable postural control. We discovered unique neuronal classes that encode the response to postural perturbations with a substantial gain in motor cortex information relative to information in sensory cortex, demonstrating a role for higher-order computations during postural control. These neuronal classes contribute to a low dimensional manifold comprised of separate subspaces that define computations activating incongruent muscle synergies. Importantly, similar dynamics are identified after midthoracic spinal contusion in a rodent model. These results inform how the cortex engages in postural control, directing work aiming to understand postural instability after neurological disease and development of a CL-BMI for paraplegia that could restore independent locomotion.

Bio: Dr. Moxon is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Neurological Surgery at University of California, Davis. She is a pioneer in the field of neuroengineering and studies the implementation of brain-machine interfaces for those with paraplegia and epilepsy. She received her BS from the University of Michigan in Chemical Engineering and her PhD from the University of Colorado in Aerospace Engineering. Her research examines how neuronal circuits encode information and the impact of injury and disease on neural encoding. She is the founding director of the Center for Neuroengineering and Medicine at UC Davis and is now directing the NSF sponsored training grant NeuralStorm, taking neural engineering by storm. As part of her work to ensure equity and diversity in neuroengineering, she is the founder of the WINE Forum to provide vital peer-to-peer mentorship and networking opportunities for women in Neural Engineering. She is an elected fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineers and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. You can view her publications here: KarenMoxonGoogleScholar. You can visit her website here:

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March 15, 2023

Biomaterials Strategies Towards Seamless Neural Tissue-Device Interface

Tracy Cui, Ph.D, William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: Microelectronic devices, placed in the nervous system to record and modulate neuroactivity or detect neurochemicals, present tremendous potentials for understanding neural circuits and treating neurological diseases. Currently, the performance of these devices is sub-optimum due to material limitations and undesired host tissue responses. Quantitative histology and 2-photon imaging revealed neuronal damage, inflammation and oxidative stress at the site of implants. Meanwhile material degradation is a frequent factor of device failure. We use several biomaterial strategies to minimize these failure modes. First, conducting polymer-based nanocomposites have been investigated as electrode coatings to facilitate the signal transduction between the ionically conductive tissue and the electronic device. We employ nanotechnology to improve the stability, charge injection and drug delivery capability of the conducting polymers to meet the material challenges. Secondly, materials and devices that mimic the mechanical properties of the neural tissue have been developed and shown to significantly reduce the chronic inflammation. Thirdly biomimetic surface modifications and drug delivery have been applied to actively modulate the cellular responses. These bioactive approaches demonstrated significant effects in improving neural interface performance. The ultimate solution to a seamless device/tissue interface may be a combinatorial approach that takes advantage of multiple strategies discussed above and beyond.

Bio: Dr. Tracy Cui is the William Kepler Whiteford Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. She earned her PhD in Macromolecular Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan. She works in the field of neural engineering with special focuses on neural electrode-tissue interface, neural tissue engineering, drug delivery, and biosensors. She has a H index of 59 with over 11,000 citations and 6 patents. Dr. Cui has won numerous awards and recognitions, including 2023 Senior Member of National Academy of Inventor, 2017 Fellow of Royal Society of Chemistry, 2016 Fellow of American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, 2015 Carnegie Science Emerging Female Scientist Award, 2008 National Science Foundation Early Career Award, and 2005 Wallace Coulter Translational Research Career Award.

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February 22, 2023

Trapped Inside Your Head: An Ethics Journey for Neural Engineering

Judy Illes, Ph.D, Professor of Neurology, Distinguished University Scholar, and UBC Distinguished Professor in Neuroethics University of British Columbia (UBC)

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: What can we learn from history of the arts and sciences to inform the ethics of neural engineering of the future? Where should we look to have maximum benefit in the design and implementation of neuro-related research and dissemination of results? This interactive seminar will address these questions and others that highlight the imperative of ethical thinking for neural engineering.

Bio: Dr. Illes is Professor of Neurology, Distinguished University Scholar, and UBC Distinguished Professor in Neuroethics. She is Director of Neuroethics Canada, and faculty in the Centre for Brain Health and at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. In addition to her primary appointment in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC, Dr. Illes holds associate appointments in Population and Public Health and in Journalism at UBC, and in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA, USA. Dr. Illes received her PhD in Hearing and Speech Sciences, and in Neuropsychology at Stanford University, and is a pioneer of the field of neuroethics formally established in early 2000. She is Vice Chair of the Advisory Board of the Institute on Neuroscience, Mental Health and Addiction of CIHR, Canada’s NIH equivalent, Director-atLarge of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and Chair of the International Brain Initiative. Dr. Illes received the Order of Canada, one of the country’s highest awards for citizens, in 2017. Her latest books, a series on Developments in Neuroethics and Bioethics, feature pain, global mental health, do-it-yourself brain devices, neuro-law, and neuroarchitecture. She writes frequently for the public on topics related to the challenges of biomedicine for the brain in local and international news media.

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February 15, 2023

When Nano Meets Neuro: Engineering High-Resolution Bioelectronics from Nanoscale Soft Conductors

Flavia Vitale, Ph.D, Departments of Neurology, Bioengineering, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation University of Pennsylvania

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: Bioelectronic technologies are powerful tools to treat neurological disorders, restore and repair lost functions, and modulate neural circuitry to control mood and behavior. The vast majority of bioelectronic interfaces, however, still rely on traditional noble metal and silicon materials, which are expensive to source and process, and are intrinsically inadequate to safely interface with soft tissues. In this talk, I will discuss how nanoscale nanomaterials can be engineered into high-resolution, minimally invasive bioelectronic interfaces designed to seamlessly map and control the activity of neural circuits at multiple scales. Specifically, I will describe the fundamental electrochemical properties of 2D transition metal carbides (a.k.a. MXenes) for recording and stimulation characterized via experimental and modeling analysis, and how these translate into significant impedance and noise reduction when MXenes are integrated into cellular-scale devices. Then, I will present ad hoc, scalable, rapid manufacturing processes designed to translate the exceptional material properties at the molecular scale into high-resolution, low impedance bioelectronic interfaces that are also compatible with clinical neuroimaging modalities, such a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT). Finally, to illustrate the potential of MXene- based bioelectronics, I will present different examples of applications in both implantable and wearable devices.

Bio: Dr. Flavia Vitale is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Neuroengineering and Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania, and in the Departments of Neurology, Bioengineering, and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. She is also a core faculty member of the Brain Science, Translation, Innovation, and Modulation Center at Penn and of the Center of Neurotrauma, Neurodegeneration & Restoration at the Philadelphia VA. Dr. Vitale earned her B.S. and M.S. in Biomedical Engineering at the Università Campus Biomedico di Roma in 2008, and in 2012 she received her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at the Università di Roma “La Sapienza”. She completed a first postdoctoral training in Chemical Engineering at Rice University, followed by a postdoc in Neuroengineering at Penn, and in 2018 she joined the Penn faculty. Dr. Vitale’s work has been recognized with several awards, including the Taking Flight Award from Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, the McCabe Fellow and Linda Pechenik Investigator Awards from the University of Pennsylvania, K12 Interdisciplinary Rehabilitation Engineering Career Development Award from the NIH, and the 2021 Global Young Scientist Award from iCANX.

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February 8, 2023

Neuroergonomics: Towards Ubiquitous and Continuous Measurement of Brain Function during Everyday Life

Hasan Ayaz, Associate Professor, School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, Drexel University.

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: The understanding of the brain functioning and its utilization for real world applications is the next frontier. Existing studies with traditional neuroimaging approaches have accumulated overwhelming knowledge but are limited in scope, i.e. only in artificial lab settings and with simplified parametric tasks. As an interdisciplinary new field, neuroergonomics aims to fill this gap: Understanding the brain in the wild, its activity during unrestricted real-world tasks in everyday life contexts, and its relationship to action, behavior, body, and environment. Functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a noninvasive brain monitoring technology that relies on optical techniques to detect changes of cortical hemodynamic responses to human perceptual, cognitive, and motor functioning, is an ideal candidate tool. Ultra-portable wearable and wireless fNIRS sensors are already breaking the limitations of traditional neuroimaging approaches that imposed limitations on experimental protocols, data collection settings and task conditions at the expense of ecological validity. This talk will discuss emerging trends for fNIRS applications, from aerospace to medicine, with diverse populations and towards clinical solutions. We will review recent studies, such as mental workload assessment of specialized operators performing standardized and complex cognitive tasks and development of expertise during practice of complex cognitive and visuomotor tasks (ranging from aircraft piloting and robot control). Various recent synergistic fNIRS applications for human-human and human-machine interaction, interpersonal neural synchronization, and brain computer interfaces, highlight the potential use and are ushering the dawn of a new age in applied neuroscience and neuroengineering.

Bio: Dr. Hasan Ayaz is a Provost Solutions Fellow and Associate Professor at the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems with affiliations at the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Solutions Institute at Drexel University, Adjunct Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a core member of the Cognitive Neuroengineering and Quantitative Experimental Research Collaborative. He received his BSc. in Electrical and Electronics Engineering at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Türkiye with high honors and MSc. and PhD degrees from Drexel University where he developed enabling software for functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy based brain monitoring and FDA approved medical devices. His research interests include understanding human brain functioning using mobile neuroimaging in realistic and real-world environments, across the lifespan and from healthy (typical to specialized groups) to diverse clinical conditions (mental health to neurological). His research aims to design, develop, and utilize (i.e., to measure->elucidate- >enable) next generation brain imaging for neuroergonomic applications over a broad spectrum from aerospace to healthcare. He organized and chaired international conferences on this topic and co-founding Field Chief Editor of the new journal Frontiers of Neuroergonomics, that focuses on mobile neurotechnology methods and applications.

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January 25, 2023

Micro mechanical devices for high-speed manipulation of light

Daniel Lopez, Liang Professor of Electrical Engineering at Penn State University and the Director of the Nanofabrication Lab at the Materials Research Institute.

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: The ability to shape and control the wavefront of propagating light beams is of fundamental importance in science and technology. A large variety of optical elements, such as lenses, metasurfaces, and spatial light modulators, achieve this by introducing local changes in the phase or amplitude of a propagating signal. In recent years, thanks to the advance of novel fabrication techniques, there have been significant improvements in the use of these devices for neurobiology, neural engineering, and the implementation of new tools for brain research. In this presentation, I will describe the advantages of MEMS devices to manipulate light and review the unique applications that these optical elements would enable for brain research and biomedical applications.

Bio: Dr. Warren Grayson is a Professor and Vice-Chair for Faculty Affairs in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, he did his post-doctoral training at Columbia University and PhD at Florida State University. He is an elected fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biomedical Engineering and has also been recognized by the National Academy of Medicine as an Emerging Leader in Health and Medicine.

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November 30, 2022

Decoding Neurovascular Interactions in Musculoskeletal Tissue Regeneration

Warren Grayson, Professor & Vice-Chair for Faculty Affairs in Biomedical Engineering; Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine.

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: Tissue engineering provides a viable means of regenerating bone and skeletal muscle tissues following injuries that lead to large volumetric defects. Our lab has developed advanced biomaterial and stem cell-based approaches to promote functional recovery following volumetric muscle loss and critical-sized craniofacial bone injuries. This presentation provides a broad overview of three areas of ongoing research: (1) My lab aims to regenerate vascularized and innervated skeletal muscle to treat volumetric muscle loss. I will present aspects of our biomaterial design and testing in murine models using grafts engineered with cell lines and human pluripotent stem cells. (2) I will present the findings from a study focused on designing biomaterials to guide vascularized bone regeneration in situ in minipigs using intraoperative protocols for combining autologous stem cells with advanced 3D-printed scaffolds. (3) Understanding the interaction between vascular cells and osteoprogenitors is critical for developing effective treatment methods. I will describe recent studies in which we developed a quantitative imaging platform for characterizing the spatial relationships between cell populations in the native murine calvarium.

Bio: Daniel Lopez is the Liang Professor of Electrical Engineering at Penn State University and the Director of the Nanofabrication Lab at the Materials Research Institute. He received his Ph.D. in Physics in 1995 from the Centro Atomico Bariloche in Argentina. Immediately after, he joined IBM T. J. Watson Research Center as a Postdoctoral Fellow, and in 1998, Bell Laboratories (Murray Hill, NJ) as a Research Staff member.

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November 9, 2022

Pushing Limits of Neural Electrodes for Intracortical Recording and Stimulation

Chong Xie, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Department of Bioengineering, Neuroengineering Initiative, Rice University

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: Implanted electrodes are a primary tool in neuroscience and carry rising significance in clinical treatments. While being uniquely capable in time- resolved electrical detection and modulation of neural activity, neural electrodes have limits in tissue invasiveness, functional stability and scalability. In this talk, I will present our work on the development of ultraflexible neural electrodes and applying them in rodent brain and spinal cord models. I will present our recent efforts on massively scaling-up the channel count and density, and on intracortical stimulation. I will discuss their uses in the context of neuroscience studies.

Bio: Dr. Chong Xie is an associate professor of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering and Neuroengineering Initiative. Before joining Rice in 2020, he was an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at University of Texas at Austin. He received his BS degree in Applied Physics from the University of Science and Technology of China, and Ph.D. degree in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford University in 2011. He did his postdoctoral work at Harvard University in 2011-2014.

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September 28, 2022

Systems biology and the engineering of complex disease systems

Elizabeth Proctor, Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, Pharmacology, Biomedical Engineering, and Engineering Science & Mechanics, Penn State University

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: Communications within and between cells are a complex network from which emerges a wide variety of biological functions. By extracting from these complex interactions the signals relevant to specific phenotypic, genetic, or behavioral changes, we can both understand the underlying mechanisms of these phenomena and identify useful markers for diagnosis, prognosis, and classification of disease states. In this seminar, I will give an overview of how we use these principles in our laboratory to answer critical questions in neurodegenerative disease and aging.

Bio: Elizabeth Proctor is an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery, Pharmacology, Biomedical Engineering, and Engineering Science & Mechanics at Penn State University, where she integrates experimental and computational systems biology methods to uncover interactions between seemingly discrete pathological processes in neurological disease. The ultimate goal of her work is to design perturbations to these integrated multi-scale networks in order to maintain brain health and correct disease phenotypes.

Prior to Penn State, Elizabeth was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT, where she used multiplexing and OMICS assays combined with multivariate modeling and machine learning to map cellular communication and signaling networks implicated in disease. Elizabeth completed her PhD in Computational Biophysics at UNC Chapel Hill, where she developed methodology for molecular modeling and protein engineering to control molecular structure, dynamics, and function in disease-relevant systems. Elizabeth holds Honors bachelor diplomas from Purdue University in Physics and Russian Language and Literature.

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September 14, 2022

An Attempt to Build a Single Framework for Multiple Forms of Perceptual Memory 

Matthew Diamond, SISSA professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Director of the Laboratory of Tactile Perception and Learning

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: Rats can learn to apply a multitude of different perceptual and memory operations to a given set of tactile stimuli. For instance, they can express working memory, where the most recent stimulus (n-1) has to be stored and retrieved to support a comparison to the ongoing stimulus (n). Presented the same stimulus set, they can express reference memory, where the ongoing stimulus (n) has to be compared to some stable, internal boundary. They can change that internal boundary as a function of stimulus statistics. They can learn to ignore or attend to tactile stimuli according to acoustic cues. While it might seem easiest to draw up computational/functional algorithms tailor-made to each behavior, we are trying to explain several different behaviors by one common framework. Here I will present psychophysical experiments, together with a schematic model to explain the flexibility of perceptual memory, and preliminary physiological findings that aim to give a real biological fabric to the schematic model.

Bio: 1984-89: PhD in Neurobiology, University of North Carolina, USA 1980-84: BSc in Engineering Science, University of Virginia, USA

After a postdoctoral position at Brown University and an Assistant professor position at Vanderbilt University, Diamond joined the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA). Since 2000 he has been a SISSA professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Director of the Laboratory of Tactile Perception and Learning.

He serves on the faculty of:
SISSA Phd in Cognitive Neuroscience
SISSA PhD in Theoretical and Scientific Data Science
Università Ca' Foscari (Venice)/SISSA Master’s degree in Computational Neuroscience

The lab aims to understand the neuronal language of memory and perception – how brain activitygives rise to meaningful percepts, how these are stored and recalled to guide decisions. Besides publications in journals, other work includes the 2011 and 2020 editions of the popular textbook From Neuron to Brain (Oxford Univ Press). The lab has trained 17 PhDs and 16 postdocs; among these, twelve nations are represented. Additionally, Diamond serves as the SISSA International Relations Delegate (2015-present). Recent efforts concern setting up SISSA programs to host scholars (from PhD to faculty)

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August 31, 2022

Measuring and Modeling Seizures and Seizure Associated Spreading Depolarization 

Bruce Gluckman, Director, Center for Neural Engineering;  Director, Cross Disciplinary Neural Engineering Predoctoral Training Program; Professor, Departments of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Neurosurgery, Biomedical Engineering

12:15-1:15 p.m. ET

Abstract: The epilepsies are a spectrum of brain disorders characterized by recurrent unprovoked seizures – events in which portions of brain stop functioning, and often result in significant loss of behavioral control and consciousness. Over the last decade, my group has demonstrated in animal models that spontaneous seizures often lead to seizure-associated spreading depolarization events. I will describe recent work from my group investigating tissue level oxygenation and if fluctuations in its supply lead to these events. I will also describe a new modeling framework that allows us to use membrane-level models of neural function to create meso-scale models with the aim to predict why the epileptic brain is not seizing all the time.

Bio: Bruce J. Gluckman earned his BS (1988) in Engineering Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his Ph.D. in Experimental Physics at the University of Pennsylvania. After a postdoctoral fellowship with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, and a Research Assistant Professorship with Children’s National Medical Center and the George Washington University, he joined the faculty at George Mason University in 1998 with appointments in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study. In 2006, he joined Penn State University with appointments in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) (tenured) and in the Department of Neurosurgery, where he co-founded the Penn State Center for Neural Engineering, which he now serves as Director.

Dr. Gluckman’s work in neural engineering has focused on understanding the generation of organized activity in neural systems, the details of how to measure and interact with such systems, and how to link models – both theoretical and computational – to experiment. His current research includes: the design of instrumentation, electronics and control systems and sensor development for recording and modulating brain activity; the study of seizure dynamics; the modeling and observation of biological regulatory systems such as sleep and their interaction with brain function and their interaction with disease dynamics and progression such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease; modeling and measurement of the multiscale material physics of brain tissue; assimilation of clinical data such as blood glucose into physiological models for development of better clinical treatments; and the links between infectious diseases such as malaria and the development of neurological diseases such as epilepsy.

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April 26, 2022

Developing therapeutic strategies for neurological disorders, particularly those of the cerebellum 

Dr. Collin Anderson, postdoctoral research associate, Department of Neurology, University of Utah

3:00-4:00 p.m. ET

Abstract: Several forms of movement disorders arise through neurodegeneration affecting the basal ganglia and cerebellum. Parkinsonism arises through the loss of dopaminergic substantia nigra neurons and affects more than 1% of the population above 60 years of age. High frequency, 100+ Hz, deep brain stimulation (DBS) of the subthalamic nucleus has become a common late-stage therapy for parkinsonism, but its mechanisms are unclear. To better elucidate the mechanisms of DBS, we evaluated the effects of deep brain stimulation in a rodent 6-hydroxydopamine lesion model of hemiparkinsonism. We made simultaneous electrophysiological recordings within the basal ganglia and downstream thalamic neurons prior to lesion and in a hemiparkinsonian state, both on and off DBS. Applying information-theoretic metrics to simultaneously recorded neuronal spike trains, we demonstrated that the parkinsonian network is characterized by an over-coupling of neuronal signals across regions compared to the healthy state, and this is reversed by successful DBS. Thus, high-frequency DBS may function as an informational lesion. 

Progressive cerebellar ataxias can arise through the degeneration of Purkinje cells, affecting 1 in every 5000 individuals, with few receiving any treatment beyond palliative care. While dozens of genetic causes have been identified, most cases are sporadic. Unlike in parkinsonism, we hypothesized that ataxic symptoms arise through a loss of motor coordination-relevant information caused by Purkinje cell degeneration. Further we hypothesized that low, rather than high-frequency, deep brain stimulation targeting the deep cerebellar nuclei may reduce ataxic symptoms by enhancing the throughput of remaining signals. We tested this hypothesis in the shaker rat, a spontaneous model of Purkinje cell degeneration and ataxia. We found that while standard 100+ Hz DBS worsened ataxia, low frequency (~30 Hz) stimulation improved both ataxia and cerebellar tremor. Thus, low-frequency cerebellar DBS may function as a catch-all therapy for sporadic ataxias. However, in a small subset of genetic cases, gene therapy may provide a more attractive treatment option. We recently found evidence suggesting that the shaker phenotype may be caused by a loss of function mutation in the Slc9a6 gene. Slc9a6 mutations cause Christianson syndrome in humans, characterized by cerebellar degeneration, progressive ataxia, and several other severe symptoms. Therefore, we generated an adeno-associated virus targeting expression of the Slc9a6 gene to Purkinje cells as a form of gene replacement therapy. Administration of this virus prior to Purkinje cell death generated substantial motor protection, with a subset of rats developing virtually no tremor or gait ataxia. Current and future work in these lines of work will focus on further optimization of neuromodulatory strategies and the full preclinical testing of a human treatment-specific viral construct for Christianson syndrome. 

Bio: Dr. Collin Anderson completed his undergraduate in Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. He then earned his PhD in the Neural Interfaces track of Bioengineering at the University of Utah under Dr. Chuck Dorval, performing in vivo studies to characterize the mechanisms of deep brain stimulation. Dr. Anderson is currently a postdoc with Dr. Stefan Pulst in the University of Utah department of Neurology, where he works on therapeutic optimization and several novel therapeutics for movement disorders. Dr. Anderson’s primary research goals in recent years have revolved around degenerative cerebellar ataxic disorders, and his work in this area spans both neuromodulatory and gene therapeutic strategies. Dr. Anderson’s work has been funded by numerous granting organizations, with most recent awards from the National Ataxia Foundation and the RTW Charitable Foundation. 

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April 13, 2022

Mathematical Models of Anomoalus Diffusion Processes in Brain

Dr. Corina Drapaca, associate professor, Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Penn State

Noon – 1:00 p.m. ET


Abstract: The complexity of brain structure and processes suggests that anomalous diffusion of ions, water and other particles is involved in brain’s functions and pathology. Anomalous diffusion through various materials has been successfully modeled using fractional calculus, and, therefore, in this talk, two mathematical models that use fractional order integro-differential operators will be presented: 1) a spatio-temporal fractional cable equation for action potentials propagation in myelinated neurons, and 2) a space-fractional reaction-diffusion equation for cerebral nitric oxide (NO) biotransport. While ionic anomalous diffusion near the nodes of Ranvier could be caused by the crowdedness of the very narrow ion channels and the diffusion barriers of the extracellular space, the anomalous diffusion of NO is due to its entrapment by endothelial microparticles whose production is enhanced in the presence of pathology. In addition, the model of NO biotransport incorporates the shear-induced NO production at endothelium and the pulsatile blood flow. The predictive abilities of the proposed models are investigated through numerical simulations.

Bio: Dr. Corina Drapaca is an applied mathematician who earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Bucharest, Romania and her doctorate from University of Waterloo, Canada. She has held postdoctoral positions at University of California in San Francisco and Mayo Clinic. Since 2007, Drapaca has been a faculty member in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Pennsylvania State University. Drapaca’s expertise is in mathematical modeling of brain multiphysics and multiscale entangled processes, continuum and fluid mechanics, medical image processing, and computational analysis. The focus of her research is understanding mechanisms of onset and evolution of brain diseases through mathematical models and numerical simulations.

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March 23, 2022

Minimally Invasive and Chronically Stable Neural Interfaces

Dr. Tao Zhou, Postdoctoral Associate, Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Noon – 1:00 p.m. ET


Abstract: Stable chronic mapping of brain activities at the action potential level with high temporal resolution is essential for both fundamental neuroscience research and biomedical applications, including cognitive studies, memory encoding and retrieval, and neural prostheses. Conventional neural probes can provide high spatiotemporal-resolution brain signal recordings independent of probing depth, although they generally trigger foreign body response and tissue damage in the brain. As a result, they are usually unable to stably interface with the brain in a chronic manner, which substantially hinders their applications in neuroscience. In this seminar, I will present a new paradigm, mesh-like electronics, for minimally invasive and chronically stable brain-machine interface. The mesh-like electronics can seamlessly interface with mammal brains with significantly reduced foreign body response and can stably record brain signals with high spatiotemporal resolution for more than 8 months. I will then present the application of mesh-like electronics for chronic recording and modulations of spinal cord sensory and motor neurons in awake mice. In the end, I will present an alternative approach to designing minimally invasive neural electronics with hydrogel-based materials and the rapid fabrication of designed neural electronics with additive manufacturing. Both the mesh-like electronics and hydrogel electronics opened up new windows to stably communicating with the nervous system with minimum perturbation and foreign body responses.

Bio: Tao Zhou is currently a Postdoctoral Associate at MIT. He received his B.S. from Tsinghua University with a major in chemistry and a minor in computer science. He then went to Harvard University to pursue his Ph.D. in chemical physics, where he worked on mesh-like electronics for neural interfaces. Then he moved to MIT for his postdoc research in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he works on hydrogel-based neural interfaces, addictive manufacturing, and bioelectronic medicine.

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March 21, 2022

Bi-directional Neural-Machine Interface to Enable Dexterous Control of Robotic Hands

Dr. Xiaogang Hu, Associate Professor, Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University

Noon – 1:00 p.m. ET


Abstract: An intuitive neural interface is critical for effective communications between humans and assistive devices. We will discuss bi-directional noninvasive neural-machine interfaces that decode user intended movement and encode sensory information of the machine state and environment. We perform continuous decoding of intended finger movement based on population motoneuron firing activities, extracted from high-density electromyographic signals. It allows intuitive and robust control of individual fingers of a prosthetic hand. We also deliver artificial somatosensory (haptic and proprioceptive) feedback to people with an arm amputation using transcutaneous nerve stimulation and vibrotactile stimulation. The evoked sensory feedback can facilitate tactile-based object recognition and enhance closed-loop control of robotic hands. The bi-directional neural interfaces can enable dexterous control of assistive robotic devices in individuals with sensorimotor deficits.

Bio: Xiaogang Hu is an associate professor in the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University. He was trained in motor control and biomechanics at Penn State during his doctoral study, and he completed his postdoc training in stroke neurophysiology at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (currently Shirley Ryan AbilityLab). His research focuses on neural-machine interface and neural stimulation, targeting upper limb sensorimotor functions of individuals after stroke, traumatic brain injury, or limb loss.

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March 15, 2022

Neuron and patient-specific computational modeling for neuromodulation in neurological disorders

Dr. Daria Anderson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Department of Neurosurgery, Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology, University of Utah

11:00 a.m. – noon ET


Abstract: Neuromodulation is often the last line of therapy for movement disorders, psychiatric disorders, and epilepsy when medication alone cannot manage symptoms. The difference between successful and ineffective therapy often lies in stimulation parameter selection, which can be challenging to optimize. Computational modeling has been used throughout the neuromodulation field to model stimulation influence on tissue, but many aspects of successful neuromodulation, such as its influence on disease networks, are poorly understood.

In her movement disorders-focused work, Dr. Anderson has characterized multiple facets of how stimulation parameter choice affects surrounding tissue. She defined how different neuronal fiber orientations can be selectively targeted by modifying stimulation waveforms, as well as using anodic and bipolar stimulation. She advanced the classic modeling techniques of the volume of tissue activated (VTA) to incorporate anisotropic diffusion imaging. Her Hessian matrix-based VTA method can be computed orders of magnitude faster than classic VTAs, which enabled the creation of a near real-time optimization algorithm to maximize stimulation of a given neural target and avoid stimulation outside the target. This advance is particularly important in determining contact configurations for complex electrode designs, such as novel directional electrodes. She has similarly explored the role of pulse width modulation and small contact size in improving selective targeting of small diameter fibers. In the same vein, Dr. Anderson developed and fabricated a novel, multiresolution DBS electrode with 864 micro-sized, individually controllable contacts to improve targeting of smaller diameter, therapeutic fibers.

Dr. Anderson’s latest work is focused on stimulation for drug-resistant epilepsy. Understanding how stimulation affects brain tissue, how brain networks may be modulated through stimulation, and how stimulation can lead to therapeutic benefit are critical, central questions to Dr. Anderson’s research in her efforts to improve therapies for epilepsy. Epilepsy is a relatively new application for neuromodulation, and it is unclear how stimulation fundamentally leads to seizure arrest or prevention. Patients undergoing neuromodulation therapy for epilepsy represent some of the most challenging epilepsy cases: they have failed to respond to multiple anti-epileptic medications and are not candidates for resective or lesional therapies. Very few patients, approximately 15%, achieve seizure freedom through stimulation therapy, though outcomes gradually improve over time. In her current work, Dr. Anderson uses structural connectivity analyses derived from patient-specific diffusion imaging to predict patient outcomes in epilepsy. Dr. Anderson has found that non-seizure epoch stimulation (stimulation during low-risk seizure states) and increased time in low-risk states during responsive neurostimulation is predictive of improved clinical outcomes. Given that recent literature has demonstrated that patients with good outcomes undergo network reorganization, Dr. Anderson hypothesizes that stimulation during low-risk periods may be driving neuromodulation-induced plasticity and the long-term improvements that have been observed. Dr. Anderson’s future research goals are to understand the long-term, plastic effects of stimulation on epilepsy networks, with the goals of the accelerating the network reorganization effects necessary to generate therapeutic benefit and, ultimately, helping more patients achieve seizure freedom.

Bio: Dr. Daria Anderson completed her undergraduate in biomedical engineering with a minor in neuroscience at Duke University and went on to earn her PhD in the neural interfaces track in biomedical engineering at the University of Utah. Her PhD research under advisors Dr. Chuck Dorval and Dr. Christopher Butson concentrated on computational modeling to estimate neural activation, improve neural selectivity, and develop novel electrode technologies for neuromodulation therapies. Dr. Anderson is currently a postdoc with Dr. John Rolston in Neurosurgery and Dr. Karen Wilcox in Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Utah, and she performs translational research focused on neuromodulation therapies for epilepsy in both pre-clinical and patient-specific models. Using pre-surgical electrophysiological data and neuroimaging, her work aims to identify patient-specific neural circuits that may serve as more effective targets for neuromodulation therapy. She is also interested in uncovering functional and structural correlates to therapeutic outcomes through computational modeling approaches to enable future improvements in surgical therapies for refractory epilepsy. Dr. Anderson has been funded consistently throughout her research career. In graduate school, she was awarded a John C. Jackson Fellowship and an NSF GRFP fellowship, while in her postdoc, she earned a TL1 fellowship through the University of Utah Clinical and Translational Science Institute, as well as an F32 NRSA fellowship and an LRP award through the NIH NINDS. In her spare time, Anderson enjoys kayaking, hiking, and camping with her partner and pets, collecting tropical plants, and crafting clothing and furniture.

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March 2, 2022

Finding Beliefs within a Brain

Xaq Pitkow, Associate Professor, Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine and Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Rice University 

Noon - 1:00 p.m.

107 Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Building | Zoom

Abstract: Complex behaviors are often driven by an internal model, which integrates sensory information over time and facilitates long-term planning to reach subjective goals. We interpret behavioral data by assuming an agent behaves rationally—that is, they take actions that optimize their subjective reward according to their understanding of the task and its relevant causal variables, even if they are wrong. We apply a new method, Inverse Rational Control (IRC), to learn an agent's internal model and reward function by maximizing the likelihood of its measured sensory observations and actions. Technically, we define an animal's strategy as solving a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process (POMDP), and we invert this model to find the task and subjective costs that have maximum likelihood. This is a generalization of both Inverse Reinforcement Learning and Inverse Optimal Control. Our mathematical formulation thereby extracts rational and interpretable thoughts of the agent from its behavior. The thoughts imputed to the animal can then serve as latent targets for neural analyses. Using these targets, we provide a framework for interpreting the linked processes of encoding, recoding, and decoding of neural data in light of the rational model for behavior. When applied to behavioral and neural data from simulated agents performing suboptimally on a naturalistic foraging task, this method successfully recovers their internal model and reward function, as well as the computational dynamics within the neural manifold that represents the task. When applied to behavioral data from monkeys catching fireflies in virtual reality, we discover the properties of their mental model. Consistent with this theory of rational control, we see signatures of mental navigation dynamics within the monkeys’ parietal cortices that predict their actions. Overall, our approach may identify explainable structure in complex neural activity patterns, and thereby lays a foundation for discovering how the brain represents and computes with dynamic beliefs. 

Bio: Xaq Pitkow is a computational neuroscientist aiming to explain brain function by constructing quantitative theories of how distributed nonlinear neural computation implements principles of statistical reasoning to guide action. Although he is a theorist, he at one point did perform neuroscience experiments and still collaborates closely with experimentalists to ground his theories, help design experiments, and analyze data. He was trained in physics as an undergraduate student at Princeton and went on to study biophysics for his Ph.D. at Harvard. He then took postdoctoral positions in the Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at Columbia and in the department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester. In 2013 he moved to Houston to become a faculty member at the Baylor College of Medicine in the Department of Neuroscience, with a joint appointment at Rice University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is a co-director of the Center for Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence at Baylor and a member of the NeuroEngineering group at Rice. He has been a professional graphic artist since he was twelve and enjoys sculpting and digital art, which he often integrates into his scientific work. He also enjoys improvisation on the piano, tabla, and two dozen other musical instruments. 

February 23, 2022

Biomaterials Niche for Immuno- and Regenerative Engineering

Dr. Hai-Quan Mao, Associate Director, Institute of NanoBioTechnology; Professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Whiting School of Engineering; and Department of Biomedical Engineering, Translational Tissue Engineering Center, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University

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February 16, 2022

Altered Cerebrospinal Fluid Hydrodynamics are Associated with Impairments to Meningeal Lymphatic Networks and the Glymphatic System in Craniosynostosis

Dr. Max A. Tischfield, Assistant Professor, Department of Cell Biology and Neuroscience, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and Resident Scientist, Child Health Institute of New Jersey

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January 26, 2022

Tools for Analyzing and Controlling the Brain

Dr. Ed Boyden, Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology, MIT, and Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the MIT McGovern Institute
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January 19, 2022

Automated Neuroprosthetics: Selfhood, Trust, and Partnership

Timothy Brown, Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Humanities
University of Washington School of Medicine
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December 8, 2021

The Role of APOE in Amyloid-β and Tau-Mediated Pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease

David M. Holtzman, Barbara Burton and Reuben M. Morriss III Distinguished Professor
Washington University School of Medicine
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December 1, 2021

Tackling Brain Diseases with Mechanics and Advanced Neuroimaging

Mehmet Kurt, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Stevens Institute of Technology
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November 3, 2021

Shaping and Optimizing Learning in Brain-Machine Interfaces

Amy Orsborn, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor in Departments of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Bioengineering
University of Washington
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October 27, 2021

Systems Analysis of Neural Immune Signaling in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Levi Wood, Assistant Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
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October 6, 2021

Deep Brain Stimulation for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: Progress, Challenges, and Solutions

Alik Widge, Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry
University of Minnesota

Abstract: Deep brain stimulation (DBS) has been highly effective in the treatment of movement disorders and has undergone multiple clinical trials in psychiatric disorders. There have been promising early results in major depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but blinded and randomized trials have not reliably shown a signal. Even in successful trials, a third or more of patients do not respond at all. Part of the problem is that DBS is applied at anatomically defined targets, without a clear understanding of how it affects brain function or how that might map to response or adverse effects. Dr. Alik Widge will overview the state of knowledge, then present a new approach to mechanistic studies, based on a cross-diagnostic approach. He will preview the next generation of DBS trials, which will likely be based on “closed loop” tracking of those mechanistic biomarkers using advanced stimulating and recording implants.

September 29, 2021

Nano- and Micro-Scale Technologies for Mapping Sensory-Driven Activity from the Brain Surface

Daniel L. Gonzales, Postdoctoral Fellow
Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering
Purdue University

Abstract: From nano-scale synapses up to centimeter-sized brain regions, complex computations occur at every spatial scale in the mammalian brain. In networks of thousands of neurons, cellular and subcellular computations govern emergent properties such as behavior, perception, and learning. Therefore, a mechanistic understanding of cognition requires monitoring neural activity across many spatial scales. Here, Dr. Daniel L. Gonzales will discuss efforts to develop nano- and micro-scale technologies that enable multi-scale neurophysiology from the cortical surface in behaving animals. These flexible grids conform to the brain surface and record sensory-driven neural activity across a high-density array of recording pads. Simultaneously, he and his colleagues use silicon shanks or two-photon imaging to capture deep-layer cortical activity. The preliminary results suggest that local field potentials at the cortical surface have a substantial subcellular component, potentially dendritic in origin, that can be mapped on a scalable platform across cortical regions. The work enables a platform for neurophysiology that links activity across spatial scales and informs how subcellular dynamics guide population level outputs during behavior and perception.

September 22, 2021

Defining the Circuit-Based Mechanisms of Psychiatric Disease Vulnerability in Females

Erin. S. Calipari, Assistant Professor
Department of Pharmacology
Vanderbilt Center for Addiction Research
Vanderbilt University

Abstract: The mesolimbic dopamine system is involved in the expression of sex-specific behaviors and is a critical mediator of many psychiatric disease states. While work has focused on sex differences in the anatomy of dopamine neurons and relative dopamine levels, an important characteristic of dopamine release from axon terminals in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is that it is rapidly modulated by local regulatory mechanisms independent of somatic activity. One of the most potent regulators of dopamine terminal function is through α4β2*-containing nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). While α4β2* regulation of dopamine release is robust in males, this regulatory mechanism is not present in intact female mice. However, ovariectomy restores this regulation in females—indicating that ovarian hormones play a role in this process. Critically, Dr. Calipari and her lab define the molecular mechanism underling these unique sex differences in dopamine regulation. Through a series of experiments with optical and pharmacological approaches, Dr. Calipari finds that estradiol increases dopamine release acutely through direct potentiation of α4β2*-nAChRs on dopamine terminals and following long-term exposure, alters the regulatory properties of these receptors. Finally, using optical and chemogenetic approaches in awake and behaving animals, Dr. Calipari links these sex differences to sex differences in motivated behaviors. Overall, Dr. Calipari shows that circulating ovarian hormones alter the ability of α4β2*-nAChRs on dopamine terminals to modulate dopamine release in the NAc and show that sex differences in the regulation of dopamine neurotransmission underlies sex-dependent behavior. These data have implications for understanding sex differences in basic neurobiology as well as for understanding sex differences in addiction vulnerability for stimulant drugs of abuse.

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The Penn State Center for Neural Engineering is a large, interdisciplinary research group that brings together neural engineering-focused researchers from the Penn State College of Engineering, the College of Medicine, the Materials Research Institute, and the Eberly College of Science. Chartered in June 2007, the center occupies 22,000 square feet of space in the Millennium Science Complex.

Center for Neural Engineering

Millennium Science Complex

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802