Neuroscience News

Randolph Blake has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

This is among the very highest honors a scientist can achieve and is a testimony to the seminal work Randolph has conducted for many, many years. Randolph is the second member of our department to be elected to the National Academy (Jon Kaas has been a long-time member). He is also one of two members of the Vanderbilt CAS faculty to merit election this year (Larry Bartels from the Department of Political Science is the other).

“It’s an incredible feeling to join such a distinguished group of scientists within the NAS,” Blake said. “This honor speaks volumes about the high quality, supportive environment and outstanding colleagues I’ve enjoyed at Vanderbilt during these last 25 years.”

Congratulations, Randolph!

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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Awards, News

Charles R. Park Faculty Research Award

Congrats to Vivien Casagrande for receiving an award at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine 2012 Spring Faculty Meeting on Thursday, May 17, 2012. Vivien received the Charles R. Park Faculty Research Award which is awarded for basic research findings that reveal insights into physiology and pathophysiology.

Congrats to Vivien!

Posted by on May 18, 2012 in Awards

VU research team’s vision study yields eye-opening results

The pulvinar, a mysterious structure buried in the center of our brains, determines how we see the world — and whether we see at all.

That’s the dogma-shattering conclusion reached by Vanderbilt University neuroscientists in a report published online this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The pulvinar sits at the back of the thalamus, a walnut-sized structure that relays sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, the outer, “thinking” part of our brains, and which also regulates sleep and alertness.

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Posted by on May 18, 2012 in News

VSS 2012 Program Cover Image

Congratulations to Asieh Zadbood, student in Randolph Blakes lab, for designing the cover image for the 2012 VSS Program! Full image can be seen here

Posted by on May 18, 2012 in News, Student Relations

Dopamine impacts your willingness to work

Slacker or go-getter?

Everyone knows that people vary substantially in how hard they are willing to work, but the origin of these individual differences in the brain remains a mystery.

Now the veil has been pushed back by a new brain imaging study that has found an individual’s willingness to work hard to earn money is strongly influenced by the chemistry in three specific areas of the brain. In addition to shedding new light on how the brain works, the research could have important implications for the treatment of attention-deficit disorder, depression, schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness characterized by decreased motivation.

The study was published May 2 in the Journal of Neuroscience and was performed by a team of Vanderbilt scientists including postdoctoral student Michael Treadway and Professor of Psychology David Zald.

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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in News

Crime and punishment: the neurobiological roots of modern justice

The willingness of people to punish others who lie, cheat, steal or violate other social norms even when they weren’t harmed and don’t stand to benefit personally, is a distinctly human behavior. There is scant evidence that other animals, even other primates, behave in this “I punish you because you harmed him” fashion. Although this behavior – called third-party punishment – has long been institutionalized in human legal systems and economists have identified it as one of the key factors that can explain the exceptional degree of cooperation that exists in human society, it is a new subject for neuroscience.

In a paper published online on April 15 by the journal Nature Neuroscience, a pair of neuroscientists from Vanderbilt and Harvard universities has proposed the first neurobiological model for third-party punishment. It outlines a collection of potential cognitive and brain processes that evolutionary pressures could have re-purposed to make this behavior possible.

“The concepts of survival of the fittest or the selfish gene that the public generally associates with evolution are incomplete,” said René Marois, associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt, who co-authored the paper with Joshua Buckholtz, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard. “Prosociality – voluntary behavior intended to benefit other people even when they are not kin – does not necessarily confer genetic benefits directly on specific individuals but it creates a stable society that improves the overall survival of the group’s offspring.”

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Posted by on April 18, 2012 in News

CICN Investigator, Ariel Deutch, Ph.D. interviewed by CBS News national reporter Amy Burkholder

CBS News national reporter Amy Burkholder interviewed Ariel Deutch, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry; Professor of Pharmacology; Director, National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence; and a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator; for a story about a team of Oxford scientists who believe they have created a groundbreaking form of therapy that could revolutionize the way Parkinson’s disease is treated. ProSavin, the new treatment, uses a “stripped-down” virus to transport dopamine-making genes into the brain. It is injected into a region called the striatum that helps control movement. Once the virus gets into the brain cells, it reprograms them to gradually start producing their own dopamine.

Posted by on April 18, 2012 in News

2012 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Winners & Honorable Mentions

The Psychological Sciences Program had tremendous success in the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program this year. Congrats to Michele Cox (Maier Lab), Ayzit Doydum (McCandliss Lab), Emily Fyfe (Rittle-Johnson Lab) and Sonia Poltoratski (Tong Lab), all of whom have been awarded an NSF research fellowship. Congratulations are also in order for Robert Reinhart (Woodman lab), Kelsey Laird (Walker Lab) and Kao-Wei Chua (Gauthier Lab) each of whom received an honorable mention for their Fellowship application.

Congrats to all!

Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Awards, News, Student Relations

Breakdown of white-matter pathways affects decisionmaking as we age

Trouble coping with the unfamiliar as you age? Blame your white matter

If you are an aging baby boomer and you’ve noticed it’s a bit harder to drive to unfamiliar locations or to pick a new brand of olive oil at the supermarket, you can blame it on the white matter in your brain.

A brain-mapping study, published in the April 11 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, has found that people’s ability to make decisions in novel situations decreases with age and is associated with a reduction in the integrity of two specific white-matter pathways that connect an area in the cerebral cortex called the medial prefrontal cortex with two other areas deeper in the brain.  Read Full Story


Posted by on April 13, 2012 in News

Kaas Named to Endowed Chair

Jon Kaas, Ph.D., Distinguished Centennial Professor of Psychology, College of Arts and Science; Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology; Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences; and a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center member; was one of nine faculty members named to endowed chairs recently. Kaas now holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in Psychology.  read more

Posted by on April 10, 2012 in News