UTSA NEUROSCIENCES INSTITUTE

Apicella Lab  Sensory Microcircuits

Cortical microcircuits process sensory information to drive behavior. Deciphering how populations of neurons encode information, generate perceptions, and execute behavioral decisions require working at both the cellular and system level.

Dr. Alfonso Apicella manipulates specific neurons in behaving mice by turning neurons 'ON' and 'OFF' using optogenetic and pharmacogenetic approaches to understand how specific subsets of neurons contribute to sensory processing and behavior.

Barea Lab  The Aging Brain

Cognitive decline in aging may result from changes in cellular and molecular mechanisms. Aging is associated with oxidative stress, which may be the underlying cause of impairment in learning and memory.

Dr. Edwin Barea-Rodriguez seeks to understand how age-related oxidative changes affect the brain, and how resulting changes lead to impairment of physiological processes underlying learning and memory.

Gaufo Lab  Early Brain Patterning

During development, neurons are assigned identities, migrate into the correct positions and make specific spatial contacts.  Cell fate markers can be used to identify neurons by origin and follow them through migration and maturation.  

Dr. Gary Gaufo looks at how patterning programs generate complexity in vertebrates by deciphering the converging mechanisms that control stem cell fate in order to understand and develop interventions for birth defects and disease.

Jaffe Lab  Neurons as Processors

Neurons transmit and process information in the brain. Their function is determined to a large extent by how they convert a spectrum of spatial and temporal patterns of stimulation into electro-chemical responses.  

Dr. David Jaffe uses a combination of computer modeling and experimentation to explore how neurons, and networks of neurons, filter and process information in normal and diseased states, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and pain processing and behavior.

Lee Lab  Neurodegenerative Disease

Current therapeutic approaches for Alzheimer’s disease only moderately increase patient survival. To develop effective therapies, we need to understand how neurons die during the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Hyoung-gon Lee’s lab uses an array of molecular and cellular techniques to dissect the mechanisms underlying neuronal cell death in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Lin Lab  From Stem Cell to Neuron

Stem cells differentiate into particular types of neurons.  Errors in stem cell differentiation and migration can cause developmental abnormalities and tumors.

Dr. Annie Lin is identifying factors that regulate stem cells as they become neurons. She uses animal models, molecular techniques, and genome-wide analyses to understand stem cells in order to develop therapies for degenerative conditions like Parkinson's Disease and certain cancers.

Macpherson Lab  Taste: From Tongue to Brain

We’re all intimately familiar with our sense of taste: sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and umami (savory). But how is taste information conveyed from the tongue to the brain?

Dr. Lindsey Macpherson uses a combination of mouse genetics, in vivo functional imaging, and behavioral analysis to investigate and manipulate the wiring of gustatory circuits.

Maroof Lab  Cortical Fate Specification & Disease

Aging, injury, and disease result in cortical neuron dysfunction, with specific neuron groups being susceptible to toxicity and death.

Dr. Asif Maroof uses transgenic technology and human stem cells to understand the molecular pathways underlying stem cell fate specification, maturation into functional circuits, and responses to aging and environment that result in degenerative processes.  His research is foundational for developing cell-based therapies and assays for a wide array of neurological disorders and diseases.

Wilson Lab  Cellular Computation in the Basal Ganglia

The brain’s electrical signals control our muscles and movements.  Parkinson’s disease results from loss of midbrain dopamine neurons, but its symptoms result from pathological electrical signals created and communicated among the cells that remain. 

Dr. Charles Wilson uses mathematical models and cell-specific electrophysiology to understand the computations embedded in the electrical signals of the basal ganglia, and their dysfunction in Parkinson’s Disease.  His work is refining and informing Deep Brain Stimulation therapies for Parkinson's patients.  

Wicha Lab  The Bilingual Brain

If the brain predicts words based on context to keep up with the fast pace of speech, language processing would be quick when predictions are correct, but slowed when predictions are wrong.  

Dr. Nicole Wicha studies prediction and language processing in the bilingual brain. The moment at which meaning is extracted from words can be seen in brain waves.  These are a tool to examine how the bilingual brain processes meaning in two languages simultaneously, and whether the languages interfere or interact.

Wanat Lab  The Neurobiology of Motivated Behavior

Motivation drives our decisions and actions and involves the neurotransmitter dopamine. Motivation can be altered in psychiatric disorders and drug addiction.

Dr. Matt Wanat studies the function of the dopamine system in rodents, both under normal conditions and in models of drug addiction and depression.  His research employs both in vitro and in vivo experiments, including using voltammetry to record dopamine release with a subsecond temporal resolution in behaving rodents.

Troyer Lab  Neuronal Clocks and Coding

The brain generates behavior.  Since neural and behavioral events unfold over the same units of time, temporal analysis can be a powerful way to understand how the brain builds behavior.  

Dr. Todd Troyer uses learned birdsongs, which are sequences of precisely timed utterances driven by neuronal activity, as a “Rosetta Stone” for decoding the neural signals that command learned behavior. His lab uses computational models to bridge the neural and behavioral levels of analysis.

Suter Lab  The Neurobiology of Reproduction

GnRH neurons in the hypothalamus control the onset of puberty and regulate fertility.  They simplify into a linear dendritic structure during puberty, but remain able to filter and integrate information from brain inputs to regulate sexual reproduction. 

Dr. Kelly Suter examines the electrical signals of GnRH neurons to determine how synaptic inputs along the linear dendrite control the decision to fire and release hormone in an oscillatory manner.  

Santamaria Lab  The Geometry of Communication

The hundreds of neuron types in the brain each have unique shape and complexity.  Specialization of shape suggests that neuronal geometry is critical to the function of each cell circuit.

Dr. Fidel Santamaria combines theory, computation and experiments to study how structure affects integration of electrical and biochemical intracellular signals. His work spans studies from nanoscopic volumes within a single dendritic spines to entire neurons.

Perry Lab  The Cytopathology of Alzheimer’s

Oxidative damage is the initial cytopathology in Alzheimer’s disease. The sequence of events leading to neuronal oxidative damage in this devastating degenerative disease are unknown.  

Dean George Perry’s research focuses on the molecular pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, with special emphasis on the metabolic basis for the mitochondrial damage in vulnerable neurons and the consequences of RNA oxidation on protein fidelity.

Paladini Lab  The Neurophysiology of Delight & Disappointment

Midbrain dopaminergic neurons integrate widespread information from memory, sensory inputs, and cognitive state to produce signals that direct motivated behavior.  

Dr. Carlos Paladini studies the electrical activity of dopamine neurons to understand how they integrate information from various brain pathways to generate choices, and considers how drugs of abuse hijack this system and alter reward-seeking behavior.  

Muzzio Lab  Memory Integration

The hippocampus plays a crucial role in encoding and retrieval of episodic memories.  These representations are used to generate a cognitive map that is crucial for navigation and providing a spatial context for events.

Dr. Isabel Muzzio’s lab studies how the brain forms representations of the external world during navigation by combining long-term single cell recordings in freely moving mice with pharmacological, genetic, behavioral, and computational tools.

UTSA Undergraduates have lots of opportunities in the neurosciences.  

There is an undergraduate concentration within the biology major; you can attend our research seminars and events; you can join a lab to explore the exciting world of neuroscience research.  If you are interested in doctoral studies, there are many resources to help you learn about PhD programs and get prepared for applications.  

To get started in research, you don't have to be in the neuro concentration, but you do have to start early!  Research takes time and commitment, and really distinguishes you as an applicant to graduate school.  Your faculty mentor will be an important reference letter for graduate applications and future jobs.If research interests you, we recommend that you:

Explore options for research training in your first or second year, and come talk to us for advice as early as possible.  We can help guide your search and show you resources that help you get ahead.    

Attend our seminars, Thursdays at noon in the BSB Loeffler.  

Take a look at our neuro labs to get familiar with our faculty research labs work on.  Do a little research on the faculty whose work interests you, and reach out to them.  See our advice for how to contact faculty about research.  

Hsieh Lab   Stem Cell Models of Disease     Neural stem cells self-new throughout life, facilitating key brain functions like learning, memory formation, and mood regulation.    Disruptions in the precise patterning, differentiation and integration of stem cells in adult brains can initiate disease processes and dysfunction.   

Dr. Jenny Hsieh  works on the genetic mechanisms that control and regulate neural stem cells. Using various models of brain dysfunction such as epilepsy, stroke, and   traumatic brain injury, she is dissecting how stem cells underlie disease propagation and can be leveraged for therapeutic interventions.  

This is not a comprehensive list; these labs have indicated that they welcome new undergraduate trainees.

Neuro Research Labs

Undergraduate Neurobiology Concentration

The Department of Biology now offers a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a concentration in Neurobiology.  The concentration is a great way to become familiar with some of the big ideas in Neuroscience, and to demonstrate a specialized interest in applications to graduate or medical school.  

To declare the concentration, consult your undergraduate advisor. If you take any of the courses listed below that satisfy both the Biology degree and concentration requirements, then you may take additional upper-division Neuro courses in order to meet the minimum number of semester credit hours required for the Biology degree.

The coursework within the Neurobiology concentration must be completed with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better. Students are also encouraged to enroll in BIO 4923 Laboratory Research: Biology Concentrations as part of their program of study.

All candidates for the Concentration in Neurobiology must complete the following:

BIO 3433
BIO 3442
Neurobiology
and Neurobiology Laboratory
5
Select two of the following:6
Animal Behavior
Neuropsychopharmacology
The Computational Brain
Brain and Behavior
Cognitive Neuroscience
Laboratory Research: Biology Concentrations (Research must be in a laboratory engaged in neurobiology research.)
Total Credit Hours11

Pro-tips for contacting faculty about research...

1. Research requires effort and initiative that's not like being in a class.  Labs are little factories with a lot going on, and it takes time to learn the ropes and integrate to a point at which you can contribute to the research mission.  In order for a professor to take you on, you should try to stand apart from the crowd by demonstrating that you understand something real about his or her work.


2. Visit the faculty's webpage in the Bio department, or their lab's webpage if they have one.  Understand the questions that they work on before going to see them.  


3.  Publications are the scholarly output of the lab.  That's what everyone is busy working on.  You should familiarize yourself with a paper from the lab you're interested in by reading it prior to meeting with a faculty member.  Don't worry, you don't have to understand it fully, but you should write down some questions about the paper that demonstrate some interest or attempt at understanding the question and methods of the paper.  


4. You can find the professor's research papers on their faculty page (linked above), or on their lab website, if they have one.  They will typically be displayed as a list in the National Library of Medicine's database, Pubmed.  You can download a pdf file of the paper if you are on campus.  


5. Every lab has a different structure and feel to it.  Listen a lot, read a lot, prepare questions as you read, and try to think about how the daily operations are serving the overall mission of the lab.  


Good luck!  If you want to make an appointment with us to talk things through and get your bearings before you contact faculty, contact us.