Department of Neurobiology

Research Programs

The department has substantial programmatic strengths in neural development, cell and molecular neurobiology, and circuit, systems, and computational neuroscience. In addition, the faculty in the department integrate their research efforts with other research programs in the School of Medicine and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Research programs in the department focus on addressing questions central to understanding the biological basis of brain function and the genetic and epigenetic influences that result in neurologic and psychiatric disease.

Neural development:

The neural development group has major strengths in the study of cerebral cortex, basal forebrain and spinal cord. Research designs emphasize experimental manipulations that perturb genetic and environmental signals controlling cell fate choices, cell migration, axon guidance, and synapse formation. Molecular, cellular, electrophysiological, and neuroanatomical methods are employed as strategies for experimental analysis, including: gene cloning; targeted knockouts and knock-ins; in-utero and in-ovo electroporation; viral-mediated gene transfer; track-tracing; imaging; tissue culture; and stem cell transplantation. This group is complemented by faculty in the Departments of Pharmacology, Psychiatry, Anesthesiology, and Computational Biology, who investigate related issues of cell signaling and protein interactions in diseases of the nervous system.

Cell and molecular neurobiology:

This group investigates receptors that mediate excitatory and inhibitory synaptic responses, synaptic efficacy and function, and neurotransmitter transporter biology, with the aim of uncovering the molecular basis of psychiatric and neurological disease. Problems of cellular homeostasis and communication are assessed using state-of-the-art molecular biological and biochemical techniques, fluorescence imaging, and patch-clamp electrophysiology. Computational methods are also employed to study protein structure and subunit assembly. This group is complemented by faculty in the Departments of Pharmacology, Computational Biology, Pathology, Psychiatry, and Neurology who investigate related issues of cell signaling and protein interactions in diseases of the nervous system.

Circuit, systems, and computational neuroscience:

Laboratories in this programmatic area focus on mechanisms of information processing in spinal, thalamocortical, cortico-cortical, limbic, basal ganglia, cerebellar, and brainstem circuits involved in sensory and motor processing and integration, and motor control. A combination of neuroanatomical, in-vivo and in-vitro electrophysiological, biochemical, imaging, computational, and neural engineering methods are used to understand converging and diverging networks and develop ways to manipulate these networks to recover normal function. This group is complemented by faculty in the Departments of Mathematics, Anesthesiology, Otolaryngology, Neuroscience, and Bioengineering.

Neurobiology of pain:

The pain research group conducts research in all aspects of the pain system and is organized under the University of Pittsburgh Center for Pain Research (PCPR). The group is particularly strong in the study of peripheral pain mechanisms but also studies central pain mechanisms. Areas of research interest include visceral, inflammatory, and neuropathic forms of pain. This highly collaborative group employs a range of techniques including genetics, molecular biology, anatomy, electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and computational modeling. The PCPR hosts a visiting speakers program, a weekly pain journal club and biweekly research presentations by trainees and faculty, thus creating a stimulating and interactive research environment. The PCPR comprises basic and clinical scientists in the departments of Neurobiology, Anesthesiology, Medicine, Pharmacology and Psychiatry.

Auditory System: Plasticity and Development

The Auditory Research Group investigates the rules and mechanisms by which auditory neurons and auditory circuits are modified during development, experience-dependent learning, hearing impairment, and tinnitus. We are using a collaborative and cross-disciplinary approach that employs behavioral, anatomical, genetic, electrophysiological, and imaging techniques. Read more

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