Research groups study neural circuits and systems and their roles in perception, motor actions, behavior, and cognition. Topics of study include sensory systems, motor systems, attention, decision-making, reward learning, emotional processing, navigation, learning and memory, social communication, and the neural circuits underlying these and other functions including cortical, hippocampal, cerebellar, hindbrain and spinal circuits and invertebrate circuits. Model systems include invertebrates (Drosophila, mosquitos, cuttlefish, Hydra), fish (weakly electric and Bettas), amphibians (Xenopus, Pleurodeles), birds (finches, chickadees), rodents (Mus, Peromyscus), and primates (Rhesus monkeys, marmosets). Experimental approaches include genetic, molecular, and optogenetic methods for studying circuits, electrophysiology, imaging, and behavior, often in close interaction with computational work as well as studies relating genetic architectures to the evolution of innate and learned behaviors.
Research groups focus on the genetic, cellular and molecular basis of nervous system structure, function, and development. Topics of study include stem cell biology, neuronal and glial specification and differentiation, axonal and dendritic patterning, neuronal circuit assembly, synaptic development, ion channel structure and regulation, molecular and cellular biology of the synapse, synaptic physiology, molecular analysis of the neuronal cytoskeleton, and the biology of glial cells. Experimental approaches range from genetic and transcriptome analysis of neural precursors to functional interrogation of developing and mature neuronal circuits in vertebrate and invertebrate systems, including slice physiology, optogenetics, in vivo recording, biochemistry and genomic analysis.
Research groups study brain mechanisms in humans contributing to perception, learning, memory, motor control, decision-making and social interactions in health and disease. Approaches include behavior, computational modeling, eye tracking, fMRI, EEG, intracranial EEG, TMS, or MEG. Subjects range from healthy individuals to patients with psychiatric and neurological disorders. Research in humans parallels studies in non-humans, offering a complementary and synergistic research program to bridge across species and levels of analyses to advance understanding of the human mind, from cells, to circuits, to behavior.
Research groups focus on understanding the biological underpinnings of neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases including, but not limited to anxiety and depression, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, SMA, inherited retinal diseases, and adult onset disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Experimental approaches comprise the full range of methods that typify disease research from classic electrophysiologic, behavioral, and modeling based methods to optogenetic, imaging and large scale genomic, proteomic and metabolomic methods. Similarly, a broad range of experimental model systems from animal model systems to ES cell and patient cell-derived systems to post mortem human tissue are used.
Research groups use theoretical (mathematical and computational) methods to model neural circuits and systems and to analyze neural data. Topics of study span across all the areas of neuroscience described in the other specializations. Theorists work both on purely theoretical topics, addressing fundamental questions of how circuits and systems can function, learn, and represent and of how structure can be found in data; and in collaborations with a wide range of experimentalists. In collaborations, there, ideally, is a back and forth in which theory can drive the experiments to be done, as well as analyze or model the data after it is collected. If you expect to do purely theoretical work for your graduate work, even if it is in close collaboration with an experimental lab, choose only this specialization. If you expect to do experimental work with a strong theoretical component, or theoretical work with an experimental component, list this specialization and an experimental specialization, in the order of importance you think they will have in your work. There are many opportunities for any experimentalist to be involved in collaborations with theorists, but do not choose this specialization unless you expect a significant portion of your graduate work to be in theory.