INI Awards Early-Stage Investigator Awards to Gantz, Geerling

The Iowa Neuroscience Institute has awarded two grants to support early-career faculty members pursuing research in fundamental brain mechanisms. Stephanie Gantz, PhD, assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, and Joel Geerling, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology, will each receive $300,000 over two years to support their research.

Early-Stage Investigator Awards, formerly known as Junior Research Programs of Excellence, provide a base of support from which faculty members can lay the necessary groundwork for obtaining major national funding, including grants from the National Institutes of Health. “These awards funded by the Roy J, Carver Charitable Trust reflect our commitment to developing the careers of faculty in the Iowa Neuroscience Institute,” says INI Director Ted Abel.

Stephanie Gantz, PhDStephanie Gantz, PhD, assistant professor of molecular physiology and biophysics
“The Role of the Delta Glutamate Receptors in the Nervous System”

Brain cells communicate when specialized proteins on their surface known as “receptors” sense specific chemicals and open channels in the membrane that allow charged particles to flow through, generating electrical current. One of these receptors, the delta glutamate receptor, has not been well characterized. Gantz recently demonstrated that these receptors are affected by the “fight-or-flight” chemical, noradrenaline, but this discovery left an open question regarding how the receptor was opening. Gantz and her team will continue working to improve understanding of delta glutamate receptor gating and ionic currents as well as the role of this receptor in remodeling connections between brain cells in response to experience. This is a necessary first step toward understanding how mutations identified in schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder affect delta glutamate receptor electrical current and the functional of neural circuits.

Joel Geerling, MD, PhD, assistant professor of neurology
“Molecular identification of brainstem neurons that regulate bodily functions”

Geerling combines molecular neuroanatomy techniques with physiology and behavioral tests to identify neurons that control basic bodily functions, including appetite, bladder control, body temperature, and conscious wakefulness. Dysfunction of neurons controlling these functions can occur with age and often arises more quickly in the patients with neurodegenerative diseases. Each of these core bodily functions relies on a network of neurons spread throughout nervous system, but each network has a prominent concentration of neurons in a small region of the brainstem that includes the parabrachial nucleus. Geerling’s team produced the first genetic blueprint for distinguishing myriad populations of parabrachial nucleus neurons in 2022. Using this blueprint, they are mapping the connectivity between these neurons and the rest of the brain, and they have discovered and characterized neurons that control bladder function, salt appetite, and thermoregulation. Geerling’s most ambitious goal is to identify the subset of neurons in this region of the brainstem that is necessary for sustaining consciousness. Ultimately, his hope is that these brain-network maps will translate into clinically useful diagnostic and therapeutic advances.


The Iowa Neuroscience Institute builds on the university’s decades-long tradition as a leading center for the study of neuroscience, promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and supporting innovation in foundational, translational, and clinical research.


Wednesday, May 3, 2023