The neurobiology of time; engineering neuronal development and repair
Our major research thrusts are to understand: 1) signals that engage the circadian clockwork in the brain, 2) sub-cellular micro-environments that shape neuronal dendrites in development and repair, and 3) emergent behaviors of integrated neuronal systems.
Regarding the neurobiology of time, consider these observations. Why do birds sing in the morning, while frogs call at night? Why are heart attacks likely to strike before dawn, while asthmatic attacks generally occur after sunset? Why do we most often feel lethargic and depressed during the short, dark days of winter, while on long, sunny summer days, we feel energetic and alert? The answer to each of these questions lies in understanding the central role of the brain's clock in organizing our body functions around the major variable in the external world, the daily cycle of darkness and light. This circadian clock, located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the brain, whose cellular processes mark the passage of time in near 24-hr cycles, is a fundamental life component. Circadian clocks impose temporal order on cells, tissues and organs throughout the body, modulating body processes over the day-night cycle. Our broad research objective is to understand how biological timing systems control integrative brain functions. Our focus is on the role of the actin cytoskeleton in signaling and clock coupling via peptides.
This major research thrust has important applications: Malfunctioning of the brain's circadian clock results in disorders in brain and organ function, which manifest themselves as clinical disorders of sleep, movement and neural degeneration, such as in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The breadth of our systems-based analysis is generating insights into mechanisms that synchronize people to day and night, which is of proven importance to good health and disease-resistance. Outcomes will enhance understanding of substrates that generate long-term neural changes, with broad relevance for public health and disease prevention. They will enable strategies for ameliorating sleep, autonomic, degenerative, movement and cognitive disorders.
Regarding neuroengineering development, we are building upon campus excellence in molecular and cellular biology, nano-scale analytical chemistry and bioengineering. We study signals that shape the outgrowth of neuronal protrusions that wire the nervous system. Our goal is to discover novel insights, solutions and applications for neural repair and restoration of function through targeting critical molecules and processes that construct micro-networks during the normal wiring of the nervous system.
Regarding emergent behaviors of neuronal clusters, we are controlling microenvironments to understand and direct the sensing, integration and actuation properties of neurons and their interactions with other types of functional cell clusters.
MNTL 1000, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign