Neuroscience News Spring 2010

Volume 19, No. 2   Spring 2010

Neuroscience News

Brain Awareness Week thrills BRI visitors

Visitors entering the Gonda (Goldshmied) Neuroscience and Genetics Research Center during the week of March 8-12 could be forgiven for thinking that UCLA had remarkably lowered the age at which it accepts students. Ten-year olds wearing surgical gloves and big smiles swarmed the halls, chatting about neuroscience and anatomy.

Such is the magic of Brain Awareness Week, an annual event organized through the Brain Research Institute and UCLA’s Interaxon student group. Many of those volunteers were students or graduates of the Neuroscience 192 “Project Brainstorm” course that trains students to teach schoolchildren about the brain.

Students listen intently to a Project Brainstorm volunteer explains the spinal cord (photo courtesy UCLA Today).

This year’s coordinator, PhD student Aida Attar, explained that the intense schedule of events is organized over a period of a few months. As groups of children moved from display station to station in the first floor conference room of the Gonda, Attar explained that the young visitors were learning not only about the structure and functions of the brain but, through lab visits and question and answer sessions with graduate students and researchers, learning about the intricacies of biological sciences. And while neuroscience doesn’t seem a likely candidate to outcompete videogames or Hannah Montana for the attentions of 10-year-olds, the kids are clearly engaged with the lessons.

“You can get some pretty specific questions – they’re taking in an awful lot over the day. But they’ll ask for us to clarify one piece of information they learned in the morning that seems to conflict with something else. They’re really paying attention,” said Attar.

During a typical BRI visit, students from schools in Los Angeles county enjoy a tour that begins with a brief overview on the structure and function of the brain. Graduate students then conduct presentations set up by Interaxon on the brain, including some hands-on activities, and educational, age-appropriate explanation of topics ranging from brain injury, two-point discrimination testing, sensation, synaptic function, hemispheric differences, motor system and lobe functions. The students then visit research laboratories where they learn about topics like neural repair and memory.

When asked what he had seen so far, Daniel Vinterfield, a pupil at the Nestle Avenue Elementary School, excitedly rattled off a list of brain functions, words like cerebellum and visual cortex tripping off his tongue like the names of his playground friends.

“We got to hold a brain – it was kind of squishy, and slimy. It was a bit like tofu,” he said excitedly. His teacher, Nicole Campbell said that the visit opened her students eyes to more than just neuroscience.

“The fifth grade science curriculum is about living systems, so this is a really good introduction,” she said. “Half have never been on the UCLA campus, so this is a good opportunity to inspire them to be here.”

For more:

Also in this issue...

Adriana Galvan wants to know it is about the adolescent brain that leads to risk-taking behaviors.

In this issue:

 Message from Director Chris Evans
 Joe Watson, Associate Director for Outreach
 Ron Harper, 2010 H.W. Magoun lecturer
 Core facilities
 New member Mary Frances O'Connor
 Mark your calendars
 UCLA neuroscientists in the news
 Fellowships and grants
 Employment opportunities
 Employment candidates

Message from Chris Evans, Director of the Brain Research Institute

A mission of the BRI since its inception in 1959 has been to link different areas of neuroscience research on the UCLA campus, both to facilitate collaboration, but also to provide a sense of common identity.

A common identity can be a powerful thing within the university context, allowing faculty in otherwise disconnected departments and schools to collaborate on mutually beneficial projects, finance common facilities and shape faculty retention and recruitment to enhance our neuroscience community. But it has benefits outside the university as well, allowing us to communicate to the wider world with a unified voice.

Outreach is integral to scientific progress and communication to the wider world has to be on our agenda. These days, the wider world does not mean the select few that will read, understand, and potentially cite your peer-reviewed articles, but also the politicians and bureaucrats that determine university budgets, the individuals that donate to our labs, and the children that one day will grow up to be our grad students, and eventually our academic peers. In short, it’s everybody.

Outreach can take many forms, from commenting on a colleague’s research for a newspaper article, to inviting elementary or high school students into our labs to learn about neuroscience, to grabbing a placard and marching against those that would use intimidation and lies to hinder scientific progress.

The BRI has, in the person of Joe Watson, an Associate Director for Outreach that has already been very effective in expanding the public profile of UCLA neuroscience. But in a climate of fiscal restraint, it is especially important that the entire scientific community can explain what we do, and how research can impact medical approaches and our quality of life. This newsletter is a part of that effort, both in celebrating the successes of events like Brain Awareness Week that introduced hundreds of young students to the wonders of the brain, and the Pro-Test march that made a powerful statement for both science and honest, civil debate.
We would like this revamped publication to serve both as a tool to explain what we do to the wider community, but also to each other. To borrow a phrase, the UCLA neuroscience community is large, and contains multitudes. 

Hopefully this newsletter, through profiles of senior researchers like Ron Harper, and newer faculty like Adriana Galvan in this issue and in the issues to come, will be a way to introduce us to ourselves. I hope you enjoy it.

This summer, Professor Watson is going to NeuroCamp - and you’re invited

The Brain Research Institute’s Outreach program just seemed to have grown up around Joe Watson. An invitation to assist in the Project Brainstorm Course was the seed, which grew into him assisting graduate students teaching neuroscience at local school and helping to organize Brain Awareness Week activities. This summer, with Watson’s careful gardening, the BRI’s outreach will bloom further with the planned “NeuroCamp” pilot project.

With NeuroCamp, Watson hopes to capitalize on existing programs that encourage high school students to volunteer in UCLA neuroscience labs. He plans to institute a two-week, hands-on training experience for an initial cohort of 8-10 students. Under the tutelage of volunteer BRI members Bill Grisham and Jim Boulter the students will spend one week learning neuro-anatomy and the next neurobiology. Ideally, the students would then join or return to the labs in which they volunteered with a broader understanding of the neurosciences, and a more finely honed set of lab skills.
“We’re going to use it as a kind of incubator, and do assessments before and after. Hopefully next year we can be much more expansive about it,” said Watson.

The selection process is a little more rigorous than for regular volunteers – students require a letter of recommendation from a mentor, a statement of interest, and a statement indicating that they will be able to meet the time commitments of the camp.

When Watson became the BRI’s Associate Director of Outreach in 2008, it was a case of the title catching up with the man. By the time the position was created, Watson was already heavily involved in various outreach activities. He had been recruited into helping develop the Neuroscience 192B “Project Brainstorm” course with Neuroscience graduate students Rafael Romero and Libby O’Hare . The course involves graduate students assisting undergraduates prepare neuroscience lessons for primary and secondary school children. That course, in turn, inspired the formation of the UCLA undergraduate student group Interaxon, which pursues similar outreach activities, including helping coordinate Brain Awareness Week activities. Watson is there to support it all – tapping into UCLA resources, providing advice, and helping secure funding. However, Watson feels all these efforts, however effective, have only scratched the surface of the need.

“We have to get into the schools with weaker science programs, and not just for one presentation. We need to create alliances with faculty there, to generate interest in the neurosciences,” he said.

Watson is a big believer in reaching out to younger students, especially those from disadvantaged schools. He believes it is a mission that all UCLA professors should take seriously – even only if out of self-interest.

“There are too many kids going by the wayside. These are the next generation of scientists, and it doesn’t make sense to not use this resource,” he said.
“It can’t be just one person – we need a full-fledged effort from all the professors.”

To contact usNeuroscience News is published by the Brain Research Institute of the University of California Los Angeles. Please direct any inquiries or
suggestions to: Linda Maninger: or Mark

Sleep well, breath easy
Distinguished professor Ronald Harper on the science of sleep research
By Mark Reynolds

Ronald Harper has dedicated his research career to what happens in our heads when the lights go out. When we sleep, we are entrusting our well-being to our brains – but these are sometimes negligent guardians, whose actions, or lack of them, can be life threatening. It’s an unnerving thought, even for one of the foremost sleep researchers in the United States. Sleep doesn’t come easy.

“Oh yes – I’m terrified, every night!” says Harper, half-jokingly. The Distinguished Professor in Neurobiology shared the scares during the 21st Annual Magoun Lecture, “Sleep, Breathing, and the Heart.” A soft-spoken scientist, Harper does not intend to frighten anyone, but sleep research necessarily touches on some dark areas. When we sleep, the brain is busily reorganizing itself. But this isn’t a risk-free process, says Harper. There are a great number of things that may go wrong.

“The brain can shut off the upper airway muscles, or even all breathing muscles, and as a result, you stop moving air for periods of time. That cessation of breathing has tremendous cardiovascular consequences, and substantial implications for survival of neurons in the brain.”

Unfortunately, those damaged neurons tend to be in areas that govern respiration and cardiovascular action, meaning it’s a self-perpetuating problem. However, the disorder can also damage brain areas that regulate memory and emotional behavior as well. Patients with sleep-disordered breathing are prone to anxiety and depression. “These people are literally destroying their brain every time they sleep,” says Harper.

The sleep research Harper does is built into the DNA of the BRI. Harper explains that Horace Magoun, the founder of the BRI, laid the foundations of sleep research. His insights on how structures in the brain stem regulate motor and muscle activity during different states put UCLA at the forefront of sleep research.

Harper arrived at the BRI in 1968, only a few years before Magoun left, was given the honor of delivering the 2010 H.W. Magoun Award. BRI Director Chris Evans explains that the award is meant to recognize research excellence and service to the neuroscience community.

“Ron is a great example of what the Magoun lecture series is meant to honor – he has given so much back to the wider scientific community, especially with his translationally significant studies on SIDs and Congenital Central Hypoventilation syndrome,” says Evans.

SIDS – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and Congenital Central Hypoventilation syndrome (CCHS) have been increasingly the focus of Harper’s research over the last few decades. Both featured in his talk. Of the two, CCHS is less well known, if equally as frightening to new parents. Children born with the condition have no ability to breathe during sleep. They do not breathe faster with higher levels of CO2 in the air, even when awake. They also do not experience the sensation of smothering, and won’t fight to breathe when their mouth is covered. They dare their non-affected playmates for underwater endurance in swimming pools - a game they always win.

"These people are literally destroying their brain every time they sleep."
~ Distinguished Professor Neurobiology Ronald Harper

“If they sit in front of the TV, if they become drowsy, they’ll turn blue, unless their mother is there to yell at them to breathe,” says Harper.

These children will have to stay on a ventilator during sleep their entire life, but Harper says that studying this condition has already led to insights on how the brain regulates breathing. 
“What’s very interesting, if they go out and play ball, they need more air because they’re exercising. You’d think they’d flop down face first, but they don’t. It turns out that Nature has built in a secondary system that picks up breathing before you even start moving. We found the brain structures involved in that coupling of limb movement and breathing, which include pontine and cerebellar areas.” 
 These insights might help shed light on SIDS. For years, the cause of “crib death” - which still claims the lives of 500 babies every year in the United States - was little understood. The finger of blame was pointed at everything from toxic mattresses to homicidal mothers. In fact, rare heart rate and breathing recordings that Harper gathered from infants who succumbed to SIDS showed that those who died had high heart rates before the fatal incident, but continued to breathe while heart rate slowed precipitously and, when gasping set in, the breathing efforts had no effect on recovering heart rate. This indicated a disconnect between the normal coupling of the circulatory and respiratory systems. 
Harper says that such a pattern mimics trends found in shock, and appeared in nearly 90 percent of a group of 53 infants who died from SIDS. Shock may be triggered by deep visceral pain, infection, or a number of other processes. Failing to recover from a shock pattern may result from raphé and cerebellar structures; the latter, Harper explains, has a role in smoothing blood pressure, keeping it from going too low or high, in addition to it’s better-known role in fine motor control. Harper says that SIDS infants often show late development of cerebellar Purkinje neurons, sometimes exhibit damage to inferior olivary and vestibular neurons which send projecting fibers to the cerebellum, and show altered levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin; the raphé, source of serotonin fibers, sends some of those fibers to the cerebellum.
 Since coming to UCLA in 1968, by way of McMaster University in Canada, Harper has trained dozens of graduate students and post docs. Many of those have done exceptionally well in their careers (President of the American Physiological Society, Chief Physician, University of Chicago, multiple professorial appointments at major universities). He’s received many honors for his research, among them the Annenberg Award for Sudden Infant Death Research and the Sleep Research Society’s Distinguished Research Award.
However, Harper remains modest: “Basically, I just showed up here as a post-doc and stuck around until they gave me a job.”

Risky business and the adolescent mind
Adriana Galvan examines why teenagers make the decisions they do.
By Mark Reynolds

Professor Adriana Galvan with her lab’s mock fMRI scanner, which she uses to acclimatize young subjects to the machines in the Brain Mapping Center.

Teenagers, however unfairly, have a bad reputation. The stereotypes are many: their moods volatile, their actions inexplicable, their thoughts impenetrable. Sometimes, for all intents and purposes, it would appear that they are an entirely different kind of being from the rest of us.

According to developmental psychologist Adriana Galvan, in some fundamental ways they are. Adolescence is famously a time when the body begins changing in rapid and unpredictable ways, and Dr Galvan says that the brain is not immune to this process.

“The teenage brain is different from the child’s brain, and that’s something that ten years ago wasn’t really appreciated,” says Galvan.

"There is an imbalance between the neural signal they're receiving from regions that are involved in emotion and reward and those that are involved in self-control."
~ Develomental psychologist Adriana Galvan

Those differences may explain the poor decision-making and risk-taking behavior that characterizes adolescence, and that can have an impact into adulthood. To shed light on these changes Galvan uses fMRI scanners – devices that allow her to observe subjects brains in real time as they are making decisions. 

Galvan explains that the body’s development doesn’t always happen evenly. Just as puberty might introduce height before facial hair, changes in the brain don’t arrive in a balanced fashion.

“Both children and adolescents show delayed development of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps you self-regulate, and allows you to make good decisions,” explains Galvan. But because the kinds of risk-taking behaviors indulged in by adolescents are not the same as that of their younger siblings, Galvan knew there had to be another factor at play.

FMRI scans revealed that when adolescents were exposed to something they find rewarding, (like money), a region of the brain called the striatum – which is involved in processing reward – lit up more actively in their brains, as compared to the same region in the brains of younger children or adults.

A teen’s brain (left) shows neural sensitivity in the striatum,in response to socially ambiguous situations as compared to an adult brain (right).

“What we think is happening is that there is an imbalance between the neural signal they’re receiving from regions that are involved in emotion and reward and those that are involved in self-control. So the reward regions are really engaged, but their prefrontal cortex isn’t really able to come in and regulate these regions,” said Gavlan.
While most of us emerge from our adolescence unscathed except for some embarrassing stories, for others normal adolescent risk-taking behavior can have repercussions throughout their lifetime, especially if they experiment with addictive drugs. Galvan hopes to elucidate what might account for those different outcomes by using fMRI scans to explore the ways in which adolescents make their decisions, and what factors influence them, and how this is reflected in their brains.

When presented with a risky choice, teens show robust neural activity in the dopamine-rich ventral striatum (red) while adults (blue) do not recruit this region and instead activate more cognitive regions, including the frontal gyrus.

One avenue is to investigate that other hallmark of teenager-hood – the increasingly important “peer group.” Galvan is investigating how “social contagion” can push individuals to make certain kinds of decisions. One experiment that helped her do so was to present her test subjects in an fMRI scanner with images of people from their peer group.

“Compared to adults or children, adolescents show much more engagement when they’re shown pictures of peers in their circle that are popular, versus peers who are not, in regions like the amygdala, which is highly implicated in regulating emotion, as well as the striatum that’s responsive to reward,” said Galvan.

In combination with these images, the subjects were then presented with certain tasks to complete on a computer as their brains were scanned: gambling, or being asked whether they would accept a ride from a friend who had been drinking. 

“We know that they know the answer – that they should or shouldn’t do something – but what we’re trying to capture in the MRI is the emotional component to the decision,” Galvan explained.

A professor’s path to the BRI

Adriana Galvan’s own adolescent decision-making – though hardly risky – might have sent her on a very different course. The California native originally attended Barnard College at Columbia University in New York with the intention of pursuing a degree in history.

During her undergraduate degree, she took a neurobiology course which led her to conclude that the intricacies of the human mind were more of a draw for her than the intricacies of archival research. Her graduate degree at Cornell saw her focusing mainly on neuroscience using animal models. However, the program there allowed students to rotate through different labs, and it was there that Galvan was exposed to the fMRI work of Cornell professor BJ Casey.

“She introduced me to the idea that the brain is a plastic system that is constantly changing. And so I became really interested in brain development in humans,” says Galvan.

After her doctoral degree in New York, Galvan accepted a post-doctoral position at the Semel Institute at UCLA in 2006, becoming a member of the faculty two years later. She became a member of the Brain Research Institute in 2009.


fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Is a real time scan of blood flow and blood oxygenation in the brain. Blood flow is a good indicator of neural activity in the brain. Observation of brain’s blood flow can show which areas of the brain are being used for different activities.

Pre-frontal cortex: Occupies the most forward areas of the brain. This region is implicated in a number of important functions, including decision-making and personality. It is sometimes described as controlling the “Executive function” of the brain, balancing conflicting thoughts, desires and goals to make a decision.

Striatum: Is located near the core of the brain. It is linked to processing reward, but also to both aversive and novel stimuli.

Amygdala (plural: amygdalae): Are located deep in mid-regions of the left and right lobes of the brain. They are heavily involved in emotional response and also memory, as well as the sense of smell.

Kavan Award Winner: 
A study in motivation

Kate Wassum can probably tell you exactly what went through her head when she found out she had won the 2010 Eva Kavan Award, though her answer would likely go into far more technical detail than simply “happy.” Wassum, a post-doc in the lab of Nigel Maidment, won the award – which recognizes research excellence in neuroscience at UCLA – for her work studying reward and motivation in the brain.

Wassum devised an experiment in which rats were able to receive a sucrose solution by pressing a lever. She took separate measurements of both the lever pressing and the rats licking during the consumption of the sweet solution, which allowed her to measure the rats’ desire for the reward, and the pleasure taken from the reward itself. She found that the two activities registered in different parts of the brain, with the lever pressing (e.g., “desire”) requiring endogenous opioids in the amygdala region. In separate experiments, she blocked the opioid receptors that responded to each phenomena.

“When we blocked endorphins in the nucleus accumbens and ventral pallidum we blocked the pleasure derived from when they consumed the sugar, but this didn’t affect their lever pressing activity, whereas we saw the opposite in the amygdala. We blocked endorphins there, and we didn’t see any difference in the pleasure from the sucrose, but we did see a drop in the desire for the sucrose,” she explained. The finding has implications for addiction treatments.

“It showed that the pleasure you get when you consume something can be dissociated in the brain from the desire for a substance. This seems to be important for addiction where people take drugs or eat in a manner that is inconsistent with the pleasure that they derive from the experience.”

The Eva Mary Kavan Prize for Excellence in Research on the Brain is an endowed prize donated by a former UCLA professor. The award is given to one graduate student and is presented at the H.W. Magoun Lecture. -MR


Bioscience Cores at UCLA (

Carol Moss Spivak Cell Imaging Facility*
Confocal Microscopy
For information, contact: 
Dr. Matt Schibler X59783 (310-825-9783)

Electron Microscopy and Specimen Preparation
For information, contact:

Marianne Cilluffo, x59848 (310-825-9848)

Microscopic Techniques and Histological Preparation
For information, contact:
Marianne Cilluffo, x59848 (310-825-9848)

Other Cores:

Biopolymer Laboratory
Peptide synthesis, amino acid analysis, Edman sequencing, mass spectrometry.
For information, contact:
Magaret Condron, x62088 (310-206-2088)

Pasarow Mass Spectrometry Laboratory
For information, contact:
Dr. Kym Faull X67881 (310-206-7881)

Research Resources Available:
Postmortem Human Frozen Brain Tissue and Matched Cerebrospinal Fluid (CSF) and Blood are Available for Scientists to Search for Etiopathogeneses of Human Disease.

Alzheimer's Disease Brain Tissue and CSF
The Neuropathology Laboratory at UCLA Medical Center maintains a bank of frozen, formalin and paraformaldehyde-fixed and paraffin-embedded postmortem human brain tissues and frozen cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)

For more information please visit


Mary-Frances O’Connor

For some people, losing a loved one feels like a physical blow. In some ways, it is: the bereaved may experience changes or disruptions in much of their body – cardiovascular, immune, endocrine and neural systems may all be affected. 
As the newest member of the Brain Research Institute, Mary-Frances O’Connor – whose focus is affective neuroscience and psychoneuroimmunology – aims to understand a form of bereavement called complicated grief. Complicated grief is a clinical condition in which the acute feeling of grief such as sorrow, and emotional numbness, do not pass.

To tease out the mechanisms that cause such an ongoing and severe reaction to loss, O’Connor uses a number of techniques, such as fMRI imaging, cardiovascular measurements, and tracking inflammation markers like TNF-α among them.

A recent fMRI scanning study revealed some interesting, and counterintuitive results. When patients suffering from complicated grief were shown photos of their loved ones while in a scanner, the nucleus accumbens – normally associated with pleasure – showed increased activity as compared to the control groups. Obviously, grief is not pleasant, but O’Connor says that the increased activity represented the subject’s yearning for their missing loved one. It’s not far removed from how addiction works in the brain.

“Our reward systems in the brain were developed to keep us close to our loved ones. In non-complicated patients these cues are not rewarding in the same way – complicated subjects haven’t made the same transition.”

In conversation, O’Connor comes across as remarkably cheerful for someone who works with people in such deep pain. The reason is simple: she is confident that her subjects can recover.

“A healthy working brain is capable of incorporating knowledge and making adjustments,” she said. “Watching people adjust is rewarding, and dealing with these kinds of issues gives you a sense of perspective.”

Dr. O’Connor earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Arizona in Tucson. She joined the UCLA faculty as an assistant professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences in 2007, after a clinical internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology respectively.


June 2, 2010 The Ninth Annual Southern California Learning & Memory Symposium will be held on in the UCLA Neuroscience Research Building Auditorium.

This meeting is a yearly event for Southern California researchers interested in plasticity and learning. It is an opportunity for our students and post-docs to meet and take advantage of the incredible concentration of laboratories in Southern California working on plasticity and memory. The meeting has been a great success for the last 8 years, attracting yearly more than 200 students and post-docs from all of the major universities in Southern California. The idea is to open lines of communications between laboratories at neighboring institutions, which may eventually lead to collaborations and scientific interchanges.
The link on the UCLA Brain Reseach Institute's website for this event is:

The Joint Seminars in Neuroscience series

The Joint Seminars in Neuroscience series will resume in the Fall quarter, September 28, 2010. Please mark your calendars and plan to join us every Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. in the Neuroscience Research Building Auditorium.

The Joint Seminars in Neuroscience are sponsored by the Brain Research Institute, the Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Carl Lejuez, Center for Addictions, Personality, and Emotion Research, Department of Psychology, University of Maryland. 
Host David Jentsch, Lara Ray

Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Gary Bassell, Departments of Cell Biology and Neurology, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia
Host: Carlos Portera-Cailliau

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Jaideep Bains, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, Canada
Host: Baljit Khakh

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Rodolfo Llinas, Thomas and Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience, Department of Physiology and Neuroscience, New York University
Hosts: Larry Kruger and Felix Schweizer

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Venkatesh Murthy, Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology, and Center for Brain Science, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Host: Baljit Khakh

Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Takao Hensch, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Professor of Neurology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Hosts: Istvan Mody and Ben Huang

Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Michael Coleman, Babraham Institute, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Host: Alvaro Sagasti

Tuesday, November 16, 2010
NO JSN- SfN Meeting, San Diego

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellow in Neuroscience Lecture
To be Determined
Host: J. David Jentsch

Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Poster Session Distinguished Lecturer
Connie Cepko, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
Hosts: Chris Evans and Xianjie Yang


Pro-Test rally for animal research draws hundreds

April 8 saw hundreds of scientists, students and technicians from UCLA and other Southern California colleges take to the street in order to demonstrate in favor of animal research. The demonstration, which drew an estimated 700 people to a march and rally on the UCLA campus, aimed to shift the dialogue on the issue away from those animal rights activists that have engaged in intimidation and violence against scientists that use animal models in their research.

David Jentsch, a neuroscientist and the BRI’s Associate Director for Research led the march. Jentsch knows from painful personal experience the lengths extremists will go to to achieve their ends – his car was firebombed last year. Nonetheless, he was heartened by the response to the April event.

“This second rally demonstrated the commitment of the UCLA biomedical research community to open exchange regarding the humane nature of responsibly conducted research and the repudiation of harassment from animal rights extremists. Overall, the UCLA research community, and its neuroscientists in particular, remain at the forefront of crucial efforts to promote social acceptance of animal research,” he said. 

After marching from Le Conte up Westwood Boulevard to the Court of Sciences, marchers heard speeches from Jentsch, Vice Chancellor Gerald Levey, and Tom Holder, the founder of the British Pro-Test events that served as the inspiration for UCLA’s event. In the UK, attacks against animal researchers have fallen from hundreds to around a dozen a year over the last decade.

“Animal research saves lives, and we want it to continue. They cannot scare us into silence,” said Holder.

- with files from David Jentsch. More info at:

BRI members Block, Fuster inducted into AAAS

Two BRI members were among the 229 scholars, scientists and leaders inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2010. The AAAS announced on April 19 that Chancellor Gene Block and Professor Joaquin Fuster were among the cohort invited to join the prestigious organization, now in its 230rd year.

Chancellor Block is a a circadian biologist, who studies the neurobiology of circadian rhythms, specifically the neural mechanisms by which organisms adjust sleep and wakefulness to the day-and-night cycle. Most recently, he has examined the effects of aging on the biological clock.

Fuster is a renowned neuroscientist who studies the cortical mechanisms of cognitive functions. He was the first to identify “memory cells” and is currently studying how working memory functions in the cerebral cortex, as well as cognitive impairments in neurological illness.

“The men and women we elect today are true pathbreakers who have made unique contributions to their fields and to the world," said the academy's chair, Louis W. Cabot. "The academy honors them and their work, and they, in turn, honor us.”
The AAAS was founded in 1780 by, among others, John Adams and John Hancock. Past members have included George Washington, Albert Einstein, and Winston Churchill. It currently boasts 250 Nobel Prize winners among its members.
The AAAS is an active scholarly organization, examining challenging social and scientific problems in our society.

- with files from UCLA newsroom, AAAS

Neuroscience Quotables

"Their brains were under-active for processing shape and configuration. They may be seeing details, but in isolation."Psychiatry Professor Jamie Feusner, quoted on KABC, explaining what his brain imaging study revealed about body-dismorphic disorder. 

“These mice, as far as we can tell, are free from Huntington’s Disease”
Professor William Yang, on NBC’s Nightly News, talking about his latest breakthrough in Huntington’s research.

"If a result is negative, the investigator doesn't want to go through the work of writing it up and publishing it, because they know it won't get into a good journal and it won't really enhance their career."
Neurologist S. Thomas Carmichael, quoted in Nature on publication bias.


BRI-supported research finds"suicide test"
By Mark Wheeler, UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations

Reporting in the April edition of the peer-reviewed journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, Aimee Hunter, an assistant research psychologist in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and her colleagues report that by using quantitative electroencephalographic (QEEG), a non-invasive measurement of electrical activity in the brain, they were able to observe a sharp reduction of activity in a specific brain region in individuals who proved susceptible to thoughts of suicide — within 48 hours of the start of treatment.

According to Hunter, prior research has shown that between 8 and 14 percent of depressed patients develop thoughts of suicide while taking the most common forms of depression drugs, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). Although reports have suggested that SSRIs are to blame, no firm link between these drugs and thoughts of suicide has been established.

This study is the first to suggest a link between worsening suicidality and specific changes in brain function while on these medications.

The researchers treated 72 people suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) with one of two SSRIs, fluoxetine or venlafaxine, or with a placebo. All were evaluated by a clinician using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, a standard instrument that assesses the severity of a wide range of depression symptoms. Of the 37 participants on medication, five (13.5 percent) had worsening thoughts of suicide. 

All of the participants were also examined using QEEG, which evaluates brain function based on

the brain's electrical activity. Among the 13.5 percent of participants who got worse, the researchers found a sharp drop in brain activity within 48 hours of the start of medication. The drop occurred in the midline and right-frontal sections of the brain, areas known to control emotions.

Of note, eight of the 35 participants taking a placebo (22.9 percent) also had increased thoughts of suicide. However, the placebo participants did not show the precipitous drop in brain activity within the first 48 hours.

“This is the first study to show a change in brain function after the start of medication that appears to be linked to the subsequent development of worsening thoughts of suicide during antidepressant treatment,” Hunter said. “Importantly, changes in this biomarker did not predict worsening suicidal thoughts in the placebo-treated subjects, so the results suggest that the biomarker specifically detected medication-related worsening only.” 

QEEG is a relatively inexpensive instrument that is non-invasive; measurements are obtained by placing electrodes on the scalp. As a result, Hunter said, further development of this biomarker could potentially lead to a tool that could be used by clinicians to predict, in the early stages of treatment, whether an individual suffering from depression will develop thoughts of suicide.

Other authors of the study included Andrew Leuchter, Ian Cook and Michele Abrams, all of UCLA.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health; the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; grants from Lilly Research Laboratories, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Aspect Medical Systems; and an endowment from Joanne and George Miller and family to the UCLA Brain Research Institute.

Mirror, mirror, in my skull
By Mark Wheeler, UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations

Mirror neurons are the cells in the brain that fire not only when we perform a particular action but also when we watch someone else perform that same action. This “mirroring” is the mechanism by which we can “read” the minds of others and empathize with them. 

Dr. Itzhak Fried, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery, Roy Mukamel, a postdoctoral fellow in Fried's lab, and their colleagues have for the first time made a direct recording of mirror neurons in the human brain.

The researchers drew their data – reported in April’s Current Biology – directly from the brains of 21 patients who were being treated at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for intractable epilepsy. The patients had been implanted with intracranial depth electrodes to identify seizure foci for potential surgical treatment. 

Activity from a total of 1,177 neurons in the 21 patients was recorded as the patients both observed and performed grasping actions and facial gestures. In the observation phase, the patients observed various actions presented on a laptop computer. In the activity phase, the subjects were asked to perform an action based on a visually presented word. Control patients were presented with the same words and instructed not to execute the action.

The researchers found that the neurons fired or showed their greatest activity both when the individual performed a task and when they observed a task. The mirror neurons making the responses were located in the medial frontal cortex and medial temporal cortex, two neural systems where mirroring responses at the single-cell level had not been previously recorded.

“It's also suspected that dysfunction of these mirror cells might be involved in disorders such as autism, where the clinical signs can include difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication, imitation and having empathy for others,” Mukamel said.

Mark Wheeler is the Senior Media Relations Rep for the neurosciences, and is interested in publicitizing faculty research and compelling patient stories, and providing experts for media requests. Reach Mark at 310-794-2265


Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

The Sloan Research Fellowships seek to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists and scholars of outstanding promise. These two-year fellowships are awarded yearly to 118 researchers in recognition of distinguished performance and a unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field.

Eligibility Requirements:
Candidates for Sloan Research Fellowships are required to:

• hold a Ph.D. (or equivalent) in chemistry, physics, mathematics, computer science, economics, neuroscience or computational and evolutionary molecular biology, or in a related interdisciplinary field; 
• be members of the regular faculty (i.e., tenure track) of a college or university in the United States or Canada; and 
• be no more than six years from completion of the most recent Ph.D. or equivalent, unless they have held a faculty appointment for less than two years or unless one of the following special circumstances apply: military service, a change of field, or child rearing. If any of the above circumstances do apply, the nomination letter should provide a clear explanation.

While Fellows are expected to be at an early stage of their research careers, there should be strong evidence of independent research accomplishments. Candidates in all fields are normally below the rank of associate professor and do not hold tenure, but these are not strict requirements. 

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation welcomes nominations of all candidates who meet the traditional high standards of this program, and strongly encourages the participation of women and members of underrepresented minority groups. 

Nomination and Selection Process:

Candidates are nominated by department heads or other senior researchers. More than one candidate from a department may be nominated, but we recommend no more than three. Direct applications are not accepted. 

Materials required for nomination include:

• A completed nomination form
• The nominee's curriculum vitae
• A list of the nominee's publications (if not included in the CV)
• A brief (one-page) statement by the nominee describing his or her significant scientific work and immediate research plans
• A letter from the nominator describing the nominee's qualifications
• One (1) copy of no more than two (2) representative articles written by the nominee. (For nominees in physics, neuroscience, molecular biology and economics these publications should be emailed in Word or PDF format in addition to being mailed as hardcopies) 
In addition, the following should be sent to the Foundation under separate cover:
• Three (3) letters of support from other researchers (preferably researchers will not all be from the same institution). Letters should be mailed to the Foundation directly by the researchers themselves and not submitted with the other materials requested above. Missing support letters are generally detrimental to a nominee's prospects.

Strong evidence – in submitted articles and supporting letters – of the nominee’s creativity as an independent investigator is one of the most important considerations in the review process. 

Nominations are due by September 15, 2010, for awards to begin in February 2011. Nominations are reviewed and candidates selected by a Program Committee of three distinguished scientists in each eligible field. Candidates selected for awards are notified in February. The Program Committee reviews more than 600 nominations each year to arrive at a final selection of 118 Fellows.

Nomination forms and supporting letters should be sent to:
Sloan Research Fellowships
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
630 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2550
New York, New York 10111-0242

Terms of Awards:
Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded for a two-year period; if unexpended funds remain at the end of two years, an extension of the termination date may be obtained. Extensions are limited to a maximum of two years. Funds remaining at the end of that period must be returned to the Foundation. 

If a Fellow transfers to another eligible institution during the term of the Fellowship, the Foundation will transfer unexpended funds to the new institution. 

The size of the award is $50,000 for the two-year period. 

Funds are awarded directly to the Fellow's institution and may be used by the Fellow for such purposes as equipment, technical assistance, professional travel, trainee support, or any other activity directly related to the Fellow's research. 

Funds may not be used to augment an existing full-time salary or for indirect or overhead charges by the Fellow’s institution. Expenditures must be approved by the Fellow's department chair and must be in accord with the policies of the institution.

The Whitehall Foundation: Grants for Research in Neurobiology

The Whitehall Foundation is accepting applications throughout the year for grants to support basic research in neurobiology, especially on how the brain's sensory, motor, and other complex functions relate to behavior. 

Candidates eligible for these grants include tenured or tenure-track professors at accredited American institutions. 

Deadlines for letters of intent to apply are due by January 15, April 15, and October 1; the three deadlines for applications during the year are June 1, September 1, and February 15. 

The total amount and number of awards is not specified, however, the amount of individual awards range from $30,000 to $75,000 each year for up to three years. View the full announcement:


Postdoctoral Positions in Neurobiology/Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research

A postdoctoral position is currently open in the Department of Neurobiology and Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. The overall interest of the lab is to uncover the molecular mechanisms regulating the differentiation of spinal motor neurons and modeling this process in human development using human embryonic stem cell- and induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons. The available project will involve the genetic and functional characterization of these cells and the establishment of in vitro assays to study their neuromuscular synaptic activities in vitro. Through these studies we will significantly advance ongoing and future efforts to build cell culture models for neurodegenerative diseases that affect motor neuron function and survival, and improve our ability to generate therapeutically beneficial cells. In these studies we will employ a variety of experimental techniques including the growth and differentiation of pluripotent stem cells, culture of mature neurons and muscle tissues, immunocytochemical and gene expression profiling analyses, and electrophysiological evaluation of the neurons formed. 

Applicants should have a Ph.D. in the fields of stem cell biology, developmental biology, or neurobiology with a background in cell culture methods as well as immunohistochemical and gene expression profiling analysis. Particular interest will be placed on candidates with demonstrated expertise working with human pluripotent stem cells. Candidates should be highly motivated, with good communication skills, and able to work productively both independently and in a team setting. 

Qualified applicants should submit their CV, a publication list, a brief description of their research experience and relevance to the project, and contact information for three references via email to Dr. Bennett Novitch ( For additional information on the lab please go to:

Data Visualization/Data Mining Postdoctoral Researcher 

As a leading bioinformatics research facility, the Laboratory of Neuro Imaging at UCLA applies advanced computational techniques, algorithms and visualization tools to improve our understanding of brain structure and function. Accumulating volumes of data confronts scientists across multiple disciplines with the need to extract significant details hidden in large sets of biomedical research data.

We are seeking a motivated postdoctoral researcher with experience in data visualization and data mining techniques to assist in the development and evaluation of new graphical interfaces for the exploration of multi-dimensional data. The ideal candidate is knowledgeable in the intuitive construction of data queries and has in-depth understanding of algorithmic/storage strategies for mining data. The candidate is expected to work from theory to application and needs to have excellent interpersonal communication and scientific writing skills. Experience with Java, JSP, and relational databases are needed and a medical background is a plus.

To be considered, please send your CV, cover letter, salary requirement(s) and a list of references to with the subject line “Data mining postdocs.” Only complete applications will be considered.

Postdoctoral Position to Study Mechanisms of Retinal Ganglion Cell Degeneration in Mouse and Rat Models of Glaucoma

A postdoctoral position is available to study the mechanisms of retinal ganglion cell degeneration in mouse and rat models of glaucoma in the Department of Ophthalmology at the UCLA School of Medicine. Interested individuals should have a published track record in biochemistry, molecular or cellular biology. Candidates with experience in vision research and working with small animal models of disease are preferred.

Required Qualifications: A Ph.D. degree in one of the biological sciences, such as cell biology, molecular biology, or biochemistry; 2+ years of laboratory work experience including Western blotting, immunohistochemistry, real-time PCR, and confocal microscopy, and strong communication skills and the ability to work in a team. The applicant must be able to independently plan and execute research activities including data collection, evaluation and analyses. Applicants must have current legal status to work in the US. Applications, including curriculum vitae and bibliography, a summary of past accomplishments, and the names and email addresses of three references, should be sent to:

Natik Piri, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Jules Stein Eye Institute, UCLA via email at:

T32 Postdoc Opening in Dr. X. William Yang's Lab

The X. William Yang Laboratory at UCLA ( applies novel mouse genetic, genomic, and systems biology approaches to study the pathogenesis and treatment of neurodegenerative disorders including Huntington's disease (HD) and Parkinson's disease (PD), and to study the development and function of the basal ganglia neuronal circuitry (e.g. Gu, Neuron 46:433, 2005; Lobo, Nat Neurosci. 9: 443, 2006; Gu et al, Neuron 64:828, 2009). We are seeking to appoint a postdoctoral scientist funded by a NINDS Postdoctoral Training Program at Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics at UCLA ( The scientist will apply state-of-the-art BAC transgenic technology and explore novel technologies in mice to study human allelic variants that have been associated with neurological or psychiatric disorders. The applicant should have a Ph.D. or equivalent and a strong background in at least one of the following areas: mouse genetics, molecular biology or neuroscience. A successful candidate should also be an ambitious scientist with great enthusiasm in research, strong publication record, and outstanding work ethics. Due to the restriction of the training grant, the applicant should have U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. To apply for the position, please send your letter of application, a full curriculum vitae, and the names and addresses of two references to Margaret Chu ( and Dr. Xiao-Hong Lu (, fax (310) 794-9613, or mail to the Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics at 695 Charles E. Young Drive South, 3506 Gonda, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1761.

T32/T90 Neuroscience Training Grants at UCLA

A number of training grants offer support to neuroscience graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Appointments are generally made each year at the beginning of the project period, but can be made during the entire year. All inquiries and applications must be submitted by the faculty mentor. The BRI frequently sends out “Call for Nominations,” so please watch for announcements. For a list of bioscience neuroscience training grants with links to the NIH RePORTER database please visit:

For a list of bioscience training grants, please visit:



The BRI regularly receives letters and resumes from people looking for work in the field of neuroscience. Below is an abbreviated list of the candidates and the type of work they seek. Copies of their resumes are often available in our editorial office. If you are interested in one or more of these individuals, please contact them directly, or call the editorial office at x56055.

Christopher Galeano is currently finishing his freshman year at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a highly motivated undergraduate student seeking to volunteer as a research assistant in the field of neuroscience. His major interests focus on the function of the brain, particularly in the area of learning disabilities. He is looking for a summer research position to gain lab experience and further his interest in the field of neuroscience. He is returning to California during the summer and would like to volunteer in a lab; Christopher is available from May 13th until September 1st, and can commit approximately ten hours per week. Please contact Christopher directly

Jeremy Gold is graduating with a psychology degree from SUNY Albany, New York, and he is looking for a research assistant position in cognitive neuroscience at UCLA. His experience as a research assistant includes: Neuroendocrinology Lab, Cheryl A. Frye, Ph.D., PI. Worked directly in experiments studying neurosteroids and membrane progestin receptors in rat brains; Cognitive Psychology Lab, Trammell Neill, Ph.D., PI; Non-traditional research in cognitive psychology, music perception, dichotic listening, word associations and recognitions. Please contact Jeremy

Panchanan Maiti, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Neurology, currently working with Dr. Gal Bitan. Dr. Maiti is looking for potential labs to complete a second postdoctoral fellowship. Dr. Maiti received his Ph.D. degree in physiology (neuroscience) in 2007 from DRDO/Bharathiar University in Coimbatore, India. He completed a M.Sc. degree in human physiology and community health in 2002 at Vidyasagar University, Midnapur, West Bengal, India where he also received a B.Sc. in physiology (honors) in 1999. Dr. Maiti has been a postdoc in neurology at UCLA since 2008. From 2004-2007, he was a research fellow in the Neurobiology Division at the Defense Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, Defense Research and Development Organization, Ministry of Defense, Delhi, India. From 2003-2004 Dr, Maiti was a research assistant in the Department of Biotechnology at the Indian Institute of Technology. Research projects and experience include postdoctoral research (2008-present): Study the structure function relationship of amyloid-ß protein in Alzheimer’s disease; Rationale, structure-based inhibitors of amyloid-ß protein assembly and toxicity. Doctoral Research (2004-2007) Study the mechanism of memory impairment at high altitude in animal models. Please contact Dr. Maiti directly

Silvie Suriany will graduate from UCLA with a BS degree in neuroscience this spring. Most recently she has been volunteering in the laboratory of Dr. Allan MacKenzie-Graham, assisting with research projects on multiple sclerosis. Prior to this volunteer work, Silvie worked in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Fears using computer software like BrainSuite to fix white matter on vervet brains' MRI scans and FreeSurfer to label the brain structures. Silvie would like to obtain a position as a research assistant/lab technician. She is most interested in research on Spinocerebellar Ataxia, or other neurological disorders that involves ataxia, but is open to all possibilities. Silvie can be reached directly at:

Irene Waltemade is currently attending a community college in Fullerton, and hopes to transfer to a Neurobiology major in Fall 2011. She is interested in volunteering in a lab and in any opportunities to further her curiosity and interest in this particular major. She would love to work in a lab during summer; any weekend opportunities would also be considered. She is very interested in any volunteer research openings related to neurobiology/science, neurology, basically anything to do with the brain. She personally is interested in neurosurgery as a profession, but also has a passion for research seeking possible alleviations of multiple systems atrophy and Alzheimer's. She really wants to partake in any part of a lab environment to expose herself to research. If interested, please contact Irene Waltemade directly