The members of the Center for Neuroscience and Behavior strive to achieve the highest standards for research on the processes and substrates that underlie normal behavior as well as the pathologies that lead to behavioral dysfunction. There is little doubt about the importance of this work. Disorders of the brain and behavior, including obesity, depression, addiction, and cognitive dementia, are currently among the most costly, pernicious, and widespread threats to human health and quality of life. To address these and other important problems, the members of the Center for Neuroscience and Behavior have joined together to form a hub of research excellence that encompasses four broad and interrelated research themes. Consistent with a multi-disciplinary perspective, many of the Center's members have research programs that span more than one of these areas.
The term "behavioral excess" refers to (a) otherwise normal behaviors that become maladaptive due to the high frequency or intensity at which they are performed, or (b) classes of behaviors that are considered maladaptive and potentially harmful whenever they occur. Excessive food and beverage intake leading to obesity or metabolic disease, the use of illicit drugs or overuse of other substances (such as tobacco and alcohol), and obsessive-compulsive disorders are examples of behavioral excess that are the focus of research by faculty and students affiliated with the Center for Neuroscience and Behavior. Special emphasis is placed on metabolic and neurohormonal controls of intake; genetic and epigenetic mediation of behavioral pathology; the role of learning and expectancy mechanisms in drug abuse; and effects of dietary factors on brain inflammation, blood-brain barrier integrity, and hippocampal-dependent forms of behavioral and memory inhibition.
Cognitive & Sensory Bases of Behavior
Scientists at the Center for Neuroscience and Behavior also work on understanding cognitive and sensory processes involved with the detection of environmental events, the abstraction of relations among those events, and the encoding and utilization of information derived from those events and relations. Research emphases by Center members include the contributions of the cerebellum to cognitive and motor learning in both normal development and in clinical and developmental disorders; neural mechanisms that underlie the suppression of memory interference and factors that weaken such suppression; cognitive processes in language comprehension; neuropsychological assessments of brain development and plasticity; and the role of contrast, color, motion, and retinal receptor density in perception and visual information processing.
Emotional health refers to a person's overall sense of well-being, including their level of confidence in their ability to deal with the problems that may confront them. Stress, depression, and anxiety are all challenges to a person's emotional health. These challenges are being addressed by scientists affiliated with the Center for Neuroscience and Behavior. Center researchers are investigating links between emotional health and the tendency to engage in maladaptive behaviors (e.g., smoking, excessive eating, caffeine intake, and alcohol consumption) and the cognitive appraisal of those behaviors; socio-cultural differences in the origins and display of anxiety symptoms; and the association of coping strategies and reactivity to stress with the development and maintenance of depressive symptoms. Much of this research seeks to increase the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions that are designed to improve emotional health.
Modulation of Structure/Function Relations
In biologically intact animals, higher levels of complexity in the nervous system are accompanied by greater levels of behavioral flexibility. Thus, for humans and other species that are located near the high end of this complexity continuum, the direction, intensity, frequency, and persistence of behavior depend on more than the specific environmental events that are encountered. Behavior also depends on how experiences with those events, during development and throughout the lifespan, interact with multiple neurohormonal signaling pathways. Researchers in the Center for Neuroscience and Behavior study how experience, physiology, and behavior are intertwined. A focus of much of this work is on how hormones protect and modulate activity in brain structures and circuits that underlie regulatory, reproductive, sensory, and cognitive functions. These functions enable animals to exhibit flexibility in broad classes of behavior.
The Center's new Confocal Microscopy Core Facility enables 3-D visualization of cells and structures in the nervous system as represented in this image of neurons derived from the hippocampus, a brain structure important for memory.
An Echo-MRI magnetic resonance imaging machine permits rapid, whole body scans of live, awake rats and mice to assess fat mass, lean tissue, and fluid composition without stressing or compromising the behavioral competence of the animals.
Center scientists now have a state-of-the-art core facility for optogenetic interrogation of neurons and neural circuits by using laser and LEDs to activate or deactivate neurons at the highest degree of temporal and spatial resolution.
The new Cognitive Neuroscience Core Facility enables Center researchers to study the human brain and nervous system with advanced electroencephalography (EEG), galvanic skin response (GSR), and other techniques.