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Members

  • Diane Slusarski, PhD

    Biology

    Research in the Slusarski Lab focuses on cell-cell signaling events that lead to intracellular calcium release. We integrate in vivo image analysis coupled with molecular-genetic tools to elucidate the role of calcium-dependent signaling networks critical in developmental processes such as body plan formation and organogenesis in the zebrafish. The zebrafish (danio rerio) model system for vertebrate developmental biology has many attributes including genetics, rapid development and translucent embryos. Due to the remarkable conservation of developmental processes and mechanisms among vertebrates, we also use zebrafish as a model for human disease and test candidate genes.


  • Richard Smith, MD

    Otolaryngology

    Richard Smith is an internationally recognized scientific leader who directs the Molecular Otolaryngology and Renal Research Laboratories (MORL).  He has authored over 500 articles and has made major impacts in our understanding of genetic hearing loss and complement-mediated renal diseases. In the domain of genetic hearing loss, scientists in the MORL have discovered numerous genes implicated in deafness, made seminal advances in our understanding of genetic hearing loss, introduced comprehensive genetic testing as the best test in the clinical evaluation of the deaf person, and are leading advances in gene therapy for deafness.  In the domain of renal disease, the MORL is internationally known for expertise in complement-mediated renal disease. Scientists in the MORL have identified new genetic causes of atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, defined the complex role of genetics in the pathogenesis of the C3 glomerulopathies, and developed and validated complement biomarker profiling as an index of ongoing complement activity to follow disease status in patients with these diseases. 


  • Greta Sokoloff, PhD

    Psychological and Brain Sciences

    Humans sleep the most when they are young and yet very little is known about why. Importantly, during infancy we spend more time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep than at any other time in our life. Dr. Sokoloff is interested in understanding the role of sleep, especially REM sleep, in early brain development. Her work has found that the movements that accompany REM sleep, myoclonic twitches, result in strong activation of sensorimotor systems – activation that is rarely observed when infant rodents are awake. Following decades of research investigating the role of twitching on the development of the sensorimotor system in infant rodents, we are now investigating twitching in human infants. With an understanding of the quantity and patterning of twitches in early postnatal development, in concert with neural activity, we hope to leverage REM sleep twitches as an early assessment of brain and spinal cord function in typically and atypically developing human populations.


  • Janice Staber, MD

    Pediatrics

    The Staber lab is working to understand the impact and mechanism of factor VIII deficiency on the structure and function of the developing brain. People with hemophilia are recognized to be at risk for neurocognitive disorders even when treated from less than 2 years with factor VIII replacement protein. Understanding the impact factor VIII on neurocognitive outcomes will inform the design of future preventative trials.


  • Hanna Stevens, MD, PhD

    Psychiatry

    The Psychiatry and Early Neurobiological Development Lab (PENDL) in the Iowa Neuroscience Institute seeks to understand molecular and cellular aspects of early brain development and their relevance to psychiatric disorders. We are particularly interested in understanding how prenatal stress, environmental exposures, and genes that play a role in early development have an impact on childhood behavior and act as risk factors for multiple psychiatric disorders. 

    We use mostly basic science techniques including molecular, cellular, neuroanatomical, and behavioral assessment of mouse models. Specific mechanisms currently being examined in the lab are embryonic neuronal migration, telomere biology and oxidative stress, embryonic neurogenesis, fibroblast growth factor signaling, and branched chain amino acid metabolism. We also examine risk factors during prenatal development in family cohorts. Our goal is to advance mental health prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders across the lifespan. We particularly focus on the high risk times of pregnancy and early development. 


  • Edwin M. Stone, MD, PhD

    Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

    Research in the Stone Lab is focused on the diagnosis, mechanistic understanding, and treatment of a wide variety of inherited retinal diseases. Specifically, we are working to develop: 1) cost effective, sensitive and specific genetic tests; 2) strategies for creating transplantable retinal tissues from patient-derived iPSCs (for cell-based treatment as well as for rapidly and inexpensively assessing the performance of new therapeutic vectors in human cells); and, 3) an assortment of immune-deficient animal models of inherited retinal disease that can be used for testing the viability and functionality of genetically-corrected, iPSC-derived retinal cells.


  • Stefan Strack, PhD

    Neuroscience and Pharmacology

    Research in the Strack Lab revolves around signal transduction mechanisms in neuronal development and neurodegeneration. We have two main areas of research interest. The first is regulation and substrate specificity of neuronal protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) holoenzymes. The second area is regulation of the mitochondrial fission/fusion equilibrium by protein kinases and phosphatases. Our research is relevant to the treatment of neurological disorders (in particular, peripheral neuropathies and spinocerebellar ataxias), ischemic stroke, and neurodevelopmental disorders.


  • Lane Strathearn, MBBS, PhD, FRACP

    Pediatrics

    Dr. Strathearn is a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Iowa, Director of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and Physician Director of the Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD). His research focuses on the neurobiology of mother-infant attachment, including longitudinal studies of parents and infants, examining maternal brain and oxytocin responses to infant face and cry cues, using functional MRI and behavioral observation. His most recent NIH grants support research into maternal brain responses of drug-addicted mothers, and the potential role of intranasal oxytocin to enhance parental caregiving responses. As co-director of the University of Iowa Autism Center, he is also interested in developmental, behavioral and genetic risk markers for autism and has conducted eye tracking research in children with autism.


  • Daniel Summers, PhD

    Biology

    Neurons establish functional connections throughout the human body by projecting long structures called axons that can reach over a meter in length. Axons are highly susceptible to stress or injury such that axon degeneration is an early and prominent event in many neurological disorders. The Summers Lab investigates the biology of axons with a focus on proteostasis networks controlling axon integrity and vulnerability to pathological axon degeneration. The lab uses a combination of biochemistry, cell biology, and animal models to interrogate protein homeostasis pathways in the axon compartment. The primary goal of this research is to understand the cellular pathways responsible for axon survival and identify new therapeutic opportunities for intervention in neurodegenerative diseases.


  • J. Bruce Tomblin, PhD

    Communication Sciences and Disorders

    Dr. Tomblin's research has been concerned with the causes and consequences of individual differences in language development and disorders.  With respect to the first topic, he has focused on pathways that run through multiple levels of causation ranging from genetic and environmental factors through brain and cognitive learning systems. His genetics research has been done in collaboration with Jeff Murray and recently Jake Mickelson searching for genetic factors that influence brain systems that support language development and contribute to developmental disorders. His imaging work has involved structural MRI and functional connectivity of brain systems cortical and subcortical) associated with language. This work has been done in collaboration with Dr. Peg Nopoulos and Dr. Brad Schlaggar at Washington University in St. Louis. Recently we have extended this work to use MRI to examine individual differences in auditory, speech and language brain systems in children with mild to severe hearing loss with a focus on the effects of variation in auditory and linguistic input on these brain systems.


  • Dan Tranel, PhD

    Neurology, Psychological and Brain Sciences

    Research in the Tranel laboratory is aimed at understanding brain-behavior relationships in humans, at systems level. Two main approaches are used: (1) the lesion method, in which brain-damaged patients are studied with neuropsychological procedures to determine how certain lesion sites are related to certain cognitive and behavioral deficits; and (2) functional imaging, including PET and fMRI, in which the brain activation in normal subjects is measured while the subjects are performing various tasks. Specific topics that Tranel is working on currently include: brain networks; retrieval of conceptual knowledge; retrieval of words and lexical knowledge; emotion and decision-making; nonconscious processing; acquired disorders of social conduct; memory; and psychophysiology. Tranel's research has been continuously funded for more than three decades.


  • Yuriy M. Usachev, PhD

    Neuroscience and Pharmacology, Anesthesia

    Chronic pain management remains one of the most serious public health problems. The Usachev Lab uses an array of molecular biological and genetic techniques, combined with patch-clamp recordings and fluorescent imaging of intracellular Ca2+, Na+ and pH changes in pain-conducting neurons (called nociceptors), as well as behavioral studies to address two broad sets of questions related to chronic pain pathogenesis. The first set of questions focuses on relatively rapid changes to nociceptor excitability and synaptic transmission that are induced by proinflammatory mediators generated by immune and glial cells at the site of injury or inflammation, and mediated via phosphorylation of so-called pain channels, including TRPV1, TRPA1 and voltage-gated Na+ channels Nav1.7, 1.8 and 1.9. We are particularly interested in the role of the complement system factors C3a and C5a in regulating nociceptor excitability and function. The second set of questions examines the long-term changes to the nociceptor molecular composition and function in response to injury or inflammation, and involves alterations in gene expression. 


  • Jatin Vaidya,PhD

    Psychiatry

    Dr. Vaidya examines developmental shifts in neurobiological processes and personality traits related to impulsivity and reward sensitivity.  Using, neuroimaging, behavioral, and personality measures, his work seeks to identify distinct components of impulsivity, how these components can be understood in the context of brain development and reward sensitivity, and how changes in impulsivity during adolescence are associated with risk-taking and drug use.  His lab focuses on both normal and abnormal brain maturation with a particular emphasis on studying adolescents who have a familial risk for developing psychiatric disorders.  Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, a key area of focus is to identify altered brain activation and connectivity patterns in high risk adolescents.


  • Shaun Vecera, PhD

    Psychological and Brain Sciences

    Dr. Vecera is a specialist in visual cognition, with specific interests in visual attention. He is a professor in the cognition and perception area in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Iowa. His main line of research relies on behavioral and psychophysical measures of attention, but Professor Vecera also relies on neuropsychological patients and neuroimaging to constrain his theoretical views of attention.  The underlying theme in most of the recent research from Professor Vecera’s lab is the role of longer-term learning and memory on the control of visual attention.  Recent results suggest that rewards—either direct monetary rewards or secondary reinforcers—can bias the deployment of visual attention and that visual regularities influence those items that are likely to be attended.


  • Michelle Voss, PhD

    Psychological and Brain Sciences

    Research in the Voss Lab examines the neurobiological mechanisms associated with cognitive aging and age-related neurological diseases, and how to effectively intervene for improved cognition and quality of life. One line of research focuses on determining the effects of physical activity and sedentary behavior on the brain and cognition across the lifespan. A parallel line of studies examines age-related individual differences in the neurobiological mechanisms of skill acquisition and associative memory. We also bring these two interests together by examining how physical activity affects learning and memory. We examine neural mechanisms using non-invasive neuroimaging techniques, such as structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging at MRRF.


  • Yangyang Wang, PhD

    Mathematics

    Dr. Wang's broad research interest lies in the area of applied dynamical systems and mathematical neuroscience. She uses differential equations, geometric singular perturbation theory and computational modeling to understand how complex activity patterns are produced in neuronal systems, how they entrain input signals with a varying frequency, and how they drive patterns of movements for animal behaviors. In addition, she also explores the role that network structure plays in determining what dynamics are possible within a system. Applications of interest include respiratory rhythms, motor control in food-swallowing behavior in the sea slug Aplysia, role of astrocytes in chemosensory control of respiration, speech perception, and homeostasis in biochemical networks. 


  • Edward A. Wasserman, PhD

    Psychological and Brain Sciences

    Dr. Wasserman's research concerns the comparative psychology and neurobiology of learning, memory, and cognition. Together with colleagues at The University of Iowa, The Ohio State University, and University College, London, he has an ongoing federally-funded project entitled, “Development and Neurobiology of Categorization.” They have several aspirations: (1) to document ontogenetic and phylogenetic changes in categorization, (2) to link brain development with the development of categorization in humans, (3) to develop and test animal models of category learning, and (4) to use animal models for examining the neurobiology of categorization.


  • Shunguang Wei, PhD

    Internal Medicine

    The Wei Lab seeks to advance our understanding of the central brain mechanisms underlying the regulation of cardiovascular function, hemodynamics, sympathetic nerve activity and neuroendocrine in cardiovascular diseases. Using a multifaceted approach including electrophysiology, molecular biology, immunofluorescence, pharmacology, and biochemistry in experimental animal models, our current projects investigate the central inflammatory mechanisms driving neurohumoral activation in heart failure and hypertension. Dr. Wei is particularly interested in inflammation-driven neuronal excitability, synaptic plasticity, and intracellular signaling associated with the productions of excitatory mediators in cardiovascular/autonomic brain regions like forebrain subfornical organ (SFO) and paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVN). He also studies the potential neural pathways that mediate peripheral and central inflammatory cytokines-induced sympathetic excitation. 


  • Joshua Weiner, PhD

    Associate Director for Education and Outreach

    Biology

    The Weiner Lab is focused on identifying the molecular mechanisms regulating neural circuit formation in the developing brain. We utilize a variety of transgenic mouse models, generated using Cre/LoxP and CRISPR/Cas9 techniques, as well as cell line, neuronal, and glial cultures, protein biochemistry, transcriptomics, and confocal microscopy. Many current projects center around protocadherins, diverse cell adhesion molecules that we've shown are critical for neuronal survival, dendrite arborization, and synaptogenesis. We are also identifying functions for a poorly-understood nuclear protein, Akirin2; mice lacking this protein in the nervous system exhibit microcephaly, ataxia, defective neuronal and glial differentiation, and dysregulation of genes involved in circuit formation. Our work, funded by the NIH, March of Dimes, and other private organizations, is relevant to a wide variety of neurodevelopmental disorders associated with autism and intellectual disability.


  • John Wemmie, MD, PhD

    Associate Director for Translational Research

    Psychiatry, Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, Neurosurgery

    Dr. Wemmie is interested in the role of brain pH and acid-sensing ion channels in brain function and behavior. This work has led to the discovery of critical roles for brain pH in synaptic plasticity, anxiety, and depression-related behaviors in mice. Current projects include investigating the synaptic mechanisms for acid-sensing ion channel action and also translating these discoveries to human behavior and brain function. For example, his laboratory is using non-invasive pH-sensitive magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the roles of brain pH in psychiatric illnesses such as panic disorder and bipolar affective disorder.


  • Jan Wessel, PhD

    Neurology, Psychological and Brain Sciences

    The Wessel Lab is interested in how humans carry out and maintain goal-directed behaviors; specifically, we investigate how the cognitive system resolves challenges to this goal. Common examples of such challenges are unexpected events and action errors. We investigate the dynamic interplay between brain networks that subserve the monitoring of the external and internal environment, the evaluation of action outcomes, and the adaptation of ongoing behavior and cognition in the short and long term. To investigate these networks, we utilzie a wide arsenal of human neuroscience methods (EEG, ECoG, Deep-brain stimulation, TMS, fMRI, computational modelling, autonomic measures). Furthermore, we study how pathological processes, brain lesions, and (ab)normal aging affect these networks.


  • Aislinn Williams, MD, PhD

    Psychiatry

    The Williams lab is interested in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which genetic risk factors contribute to psychiatric disease from a developmental perspective. Our current projects focus on voltage-gated calcium channel genes, which have been linked to the risk of developing bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and autism. We use induced pluripotent stem cells and transgenic mouse models to study how calcium channel gene SNPs alter neuronal development, neural circuit function, and affective behavior. We employ a wide range of approaches, including molecular biology, live cell imaging, neuropathology, and animal behavioral assessments, to try to unravel the developmental pathways involved in neuropsychiatric disease, in the hope of identifying novel treatment targets.


  • Florence Williams, PhD

    Chemistry

    The Williams lab in the Department of Chemistry applies organic synthetic expertise to questions of cellular biology.  One area of focus is natural products which have been identified as neurotrophic – causing growth, proliferation and/or differentiation in neuron or neuron progenitor cells.  We synthetically produce the natural product molecules as well as variants which allow for structure-activity-relationship studies and cross-linking mechanistic studies.  Moreover, we perform biochemical analyses using PC-12 cell lines in order to elucidate signal transduction pathways.  Another area of interest is the development of bioorthogonal reactions – reactions that are exquisitely selective, where the reagents react only with each other and do not react with anything naturally present in a cell.  Bioorthogonal reactions allow for the control of a single bond forming process despite complex physiologically relevant environments and can be used for applications ranging from ligations to synthetic post-translational modifications.


  • Virginia L. Willour, PhD

    Psychiatry

    The primary goal of our laboratory is to identify genetic and epigenetic risk factors for suicidal behavior. Genetic epidemiological studies make it clear that suicidal behavior has a substantial heritable component. While there is evidence that this heritability is accounted for in part by a liability to mood disorder, other evidence suggests an independent heritable facet that may cut across multiple psychiatric disorders. With this in mind, we have been employing systematic genetic approaches including linkage analysis, genome-wide association study analysis, whole exome sequencing analysis, RNA-Seq analysis, and genome-wide methylation analysis, with the goal of identifying genomic regions, genes, and biological pathways influencing suicide risk. Our ongoing research has implicated a region on chromosome 2 (2p25) in the risk for suicidal behavior, and we are utilizing complementary genetic approaches, such as CRISPR-Cas9 based deletion mapping and bioinformatics assessment, to characterize the region and identify the functional elements conferring increased risk.  


  • Kristan Worthington, PhD

    Biomedical Engineering

    The Worthington Lab is interested in using biomaterials to help study and treat various diseases and conditions. We are currently using high-resolution 3D printing to create degradable scaffolds to deliver iPSC-derived photoreceptor cells to the retina. We are also studying ways in which we can fine-tune the release of proteins and small molecules from these precision biomaterials and developing stem cell culture strategies to streamline the differentiation of neural cells.


  • Chun-Fang Wu, PhD

    Biology

    The long-term research goals in the Wu Lab concern the genetic framework underlying nervous system function and behavior in the context of nature-nurture interactions. Our research involves analyses at difference levels in Drosophila mutants and natural variant. A combination of electrophysiological, anatomical, cell biological, genetic and behavioral techniques is employed to study the neural basis of behavior in both in vivo and in vitro preparations.  Currently, our research projects center around neuronal, behavioral, and lifespan plasticity in Drosophila. We focus on mutants with altered nerve excitability and deficiencies in learning behavior. Mutants and transgenic flies are analyzed in identified neurons and neural circuits for consequences of altered ion channel functions and synaptic mechanisms, as well as their homeostatic adjustments under environmental stressors throughout the lifespan. For example, we found the short-lived SOD mutant flies could double their lifespan when co-housed with young, active “helper” flies. This striking social interaction effect improves stress resistance and motor coordination, opening opportunities to unravel the underlying molecular mechanisms and networks of interacting genes that confer the beneficial effects.


  • William Xu, MD

    Anesthesia

    Dr. Xu is interested in exploring the neurophysiological mechanism of acupuncture analgesia, including how and why acute pain, chronic pain and inflammation can be regulated by acupuncture treatment. Clinically, he is focused on using acupuncture to promote the ERAS ( Enhanced Recovery After Surgery) in perioperative medicine, how acupuncture can be used to improve the rehabilitation of PTSD, neurotrauma, stroke, fibromyalgia  and muscle fatigue. He also studies the neurological mechanism of DBS ( Deep Brain Stimulation) in movement disorders and other neurological/Psychiatric diseases like migraine, addiction, depression etc.  


  • Samuel M. Young, PhD

    Anatomy and Cell Biology

    The Young Lab is focused on the fundamental question– “How do synapses enable neuronal circuits to transmit a wide diversity of information?”  Outcomes from our work will define the molecular principles that govern how synaptic properties drive neuronal circuit output which underpins organism behavior. These molecular principles uncovered may reveal the underlying causes of neuronal circuit dysregulation which results in neuropsychiatric or neurodegenerative diseases and have the potential to give rise to new therapeutic treatments.


  • Yang Yu, PhD

    Internal Medicine

    Dr. Yu's research interest is in understanding the central neural mechanisms in the regulation of sympathetic nervous activity and cardiovascular function in heart failure and hypertension. Recent studies have focused specifically on the roles of increased proinflammatory cytokines and renin-angiotensin system activity in the subfornical organ, a forebrain circumventricular organ that senses circulating humoral factors, and downstream in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus, a forebrain source of presympathetic neurons that has been implicated in the pathophysiology of heart failure and hypertension. Molecular biological techniques including real-time PCR, Western blots, immunohistological/immunofluorescent techniques are routinely used to address this research problem and the molecular results are correlated with functional data from acute electrophysiological studies examining the effects of these manipulations on regulation of sympathetic nervous activity and cardiovascular function. 


  • Erliang Zeng, PhD

    Preventive and Community Dentistry

    The research interests of BioComs Lab (bioinformatics and computational systems biology laboratory) led by Dr. Zeng are in the general areas of bioinformatics, computational systems biology, and biological big data mining. Currently, the research of BioComs Lab focuses on developing and applying algorithms and computational tools for analyzing high-throughput biological data including next-generation sequencing data, metagenomics data, SNPs data, and many more. The research projects are related to functional genomic data analysis, comparative genomics analysis, biological big data mining, gene expression data analysis, promoter sequence data analysis, protein-protein interaction data mining, functional gene network analysis, and biological ontology data mining.