Greg Pearson wins two awards to attend Society for Neuroscience conference

The NSB program is happy to announce that Greg Pearson (3rd year PhD student in the Karatsoreos Lab) has won a Trainee Professional Development Award (TDPA) to attend the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) conference in San Diego. The competitive TPDA recognizes undergraduate and graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who demonstrate scientific merit and excellence in research. 

We are also excited that Greg’s SfN abstract, exploring how the circadian clock alters the impact of viral inflammatory stimuli that access the brain via the intranasal route, was chosen for a NanoString Technologies Travel Grant. Congratulations Greg!


2022 Neuroscience and Behavior graduate student awards

Award winners, Madison Riffe, Joe Dwyer, and Wayne Barnaby

Distinguished Student AwardWayne Barnaby

Meg Sratton, Wayne Barnaby, Heather Richardson

For over 25 years, this distinguished award has paid tribute to a more advanced doctoral student in the NSB PhD program, honoring academic performance, research performance, and contributions that enhance the quality of the NSB program.
Wayne continually sets a new bar for quality and rigor for his science. Wayne’s latest publication in Genetics titled “The GABAA α subunit control of hyperactive behavior in developing zebrafish.” This paper describes a set of eloquent studies that used a multiplex CRISPR-Cas9 somatic mutation approach to screen for hyperactivity phenotypes linked to GABAergic alpha subunit mutations. Wayne discovered that a3 and a5 subunits regulate distinct aspects of zebrafish swimming behavior, which are important steps to identify circuit mechanisms of how GABA controls locomotion.

Genetics issue with Wayne’s work on the cover.

The value of this work and Wayne’s keen talent in putting together beautiful scientific illustrations was recognized when it was chosen for the cover of an issue of Genetics as well!

During his years as NSB president, Wayne made focusing on awareness and education of diversity and inclusion within NSB and the other Interdepartmental Graduate Programs one of his top priorities. Notably, his leadership and impact go well beyond NSB, as was evident with his role in spearheading and promoting the widely endorsed petition to our Chancellor to address inequality and racism in our university and community. As one of his nominators said so perfectly about Wayne, “he models for all of us a patient yet persistent approach that brings people into this awareness, into conversations, and into actions.” Finally, on top of all these achievements, Wayne was also praised for his stellar teaching skills in the classroom and mentoring of undergraduate students in the Downes lab.

Early Career AwardMadison Riffe

Madison Riffe (center)

This award is designated for a 1st or 2nd year student in the NSB PhD program showing excellence in academics, research, and/or outreach.
Madison’s service to the University has been invaluable, through her roles on various high-level committees at the College and Departmental level, as well as in the NSB program. According to one nominator, “Madison simply does it all, and she does it well!”. She got As in all of her classes in her 1st two years, she was nominated for a distinguished teaching award for her work as a TA, and has mentored or is actively mentoring 5 undergraduate and postbaccalaureate students in the Downes lab. Her research productivity is excellent, and she has a coauthored paper in press with another on the way out the door.

Golden Neuron AwardJoe Dwyer

Joe Dwyer (center)

The Golden Neuron Award celebrates an exciting new finding from any PhD or MA student in the NSB program. The finding must have been published or presented at a conference within the last year.
Joe used viral circuit mapping and whole brain imaging and found over 50 brain regions that synapse onto aromatase neurons in the medial amygdala. The breadth of these connections is exciting and suggests these pathways are tying social behavior states like mating to states relating to stress, parenting, social recognition, and aggression. The paper associated with these findings was published in eNeuro in 2022, titled “Brain-Wide Synaptic Inputs to Aromatase-Expressing Neurons in the Medial Amygdala Suggest Complex Circuitry for Modulating Social Behavior.”


UMass Neurosciences Publications – September 2022

Sara Holec, PhD

This month’s featured researcher is Sara A.M. Holec. Dr. Holec is a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Amanda Woerman’s lab in the Department of Biology and Institute of Applied Life Sciences. Sara earned her PhD in 2019 at Creighton University and joined Dr. Woerman’s lab in 2020. She is interested in studying α-synuclein prion strains and understanding how these differences contribute to human disease. Dr. Holec is the first author on a paper that appeared in Acta Neuropathologica this month that was a collaboration with Nobel Laureate Stanley Prusiner, titled “Multiple system atrophy prions transmit neurological disease to mice expressing wild-type human α-synuclein.” They show that six different MSA patient samples transmit neurological disease and induce α-synuclein prion formation in mice expressing wild-type human α-synuclein. This paper helps validate the use of mice for the study of human prion diseases.

1: Holec SAM, Lee J, Oehler A, Ooi FK, Mordes DA, Olson SH, Prusiner SB, Woerman AL. Multiple system atrophy prions transmit neurological disease to mice expressing wild-type human α-synuclein. Acta Neuropathol. 2022 Oct;144(4):677-690. doi: 10.1007/s00401-022-02476-7. Epub 2022 Aug 26. PMID: 36018376.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared online in September. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Director’s Channel – Sept 2022

Paul Katz
IONs Director, Paul Katz

The semester is now in full swim and we have exciting plans for the coming academic year. Based on a series of faculty forums held last year, we identified neuroscience and women’s health and well-being as a major strength at UMass. We will use this theme as the focus of the Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference to be held in the spring of 2023.

This summer, I attended my first off campus in-person conference since the start of the pandemic. It was so much more rewarding to be in an audience of real people instead of staring at a screen. I got to meet people and make new contacts. One of those contacts, will be our next IONs Distinguished Lecture, Dr. Venessa Ruta from the Rockefeller University. She examines the neural basis of complex behaviors of the fruit fly. On November 9th, we will hold a Neuroscience poster preview session in conjunction with her talk. This will be your opportunity to practice presenting your poster for the Society for Neuroscience Conference or to see the amazing work that will presented at this conference without having to travel to San Diego.

This semester there is a great lineup of talks in the Neuroscience and Behavior Graduate program seminar series including NSB student talks. So, get out and go see a research talk in person.


UMass Neurosciences Publications – Summer 2022

Katherine Dixon-Gordon

This month’s featured researcher is Katherine Dixon-Gordon. Dr. Dixon-Gordon is an associate professor in the Clincal Program in the Department Psychological & Brain Sciences. She directs the Clinical Affective Science lab, whose mission is to harness innovative research methods to advance our understanding of emotional suffering and intentional self-injury and improve evidence-based, compassionate, and accessible treatments. She received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Simon Fraser University and she completed her residency and did clinical work at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Dr. Dixon-Gordon is a board certified Dielectic Behavioral Therapy Trainer at Behavioral Tech LLC. She directs the DBT Program in the Psychological Services Center at UMass. She co-authored a paper in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, titled, “The Effectiveness of 6 versus 12 Months of Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: A Noninferiority Randomized Clinical Trial“, which recently appeared in PubMed.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared online this summer. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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New Neuroscience Faculty Members

The Neuroscience Community at UMass is expanding with the addition of two new faculty members.

Sally Kim, is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Amherst College who joined the UMass Neuroscience and Behavior program as graduate faculty this summer. Dr. Kim completed her PhD. at University of Texas, Houston followed by work as a Postdoctoral Scholar at the California Institute of Technology and Research Scientist at Stanford University.

Her research interests are fueled by a passion for understanding the molecular basis of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders after working with children in a psychiatric hospital post undergraduate studies. Her lab is studying the role of zinc as a dynamic regulator for synaptic signaling and function using an interdisciplinary approach of molecular, cellular, biochemical, and optical methods. Their research seeks to understand the basic mechanisms of zinc signaling in neurons and bridge this understanding for potential translational applications for autism and neurodegeneration. To tackle these questions, they develop novel tools to gain access to the necessary molecular, spatial and temporal domains to dissect these pathways.

Joyita Dutta is a new Associate Professor in the department of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering at UMass. Professor Dutta completed her PhD. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California in 2011. Following the completion of her PhD., Dr. Dutta began work as a Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School and Mass General Hospital where she later began teaching. She began her career in the University of Massachusetts system at Lowell in 2015.

Her expertise is in biomedical image reconstruction and analysis and her research interests include signal processing and machine learning techniques for imaging (e.g. PET, MRI), graph (e.g. brain network), and time-series (e.g., accelerometry, ECG) datasets; multimodality information integration for image reconstruction, processing, and analysis, along with applications to neurology: Tau and amyloid imaging and graph-based brain network analysis for Alzheimer’s disease.


Director’s Channel – June 2022

Paul Katz
IONs Director, Paul Katz

The Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference that we held in person last week was a great success. We had over 100 people register. The talks and posters generated a lot of discussion. This week we are continuing the theme of Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence with two hands-on workshops to learn how to use MATLAB to apply Machine Learning techniques to neuroscience data. We are also pleased to announce the recipients of the Inspiration Awards. These graduate students and postdocs truly are inspirations in how they are working across neuroscience, engineering, and computer science in innovative and creative ways. Please take a moment to look at the projects that they proposed. My hope is that these trainees will help lead UMass to the next level of neuroscience research that is truly interdisciplinary.


UMass Neurosciences Publications – May 2022

This month’s featured researcher in Michael Barresi, who is a Professor of Biological Sciences at Smith College. His lab studies neural and glial development in zebrafish. Michael received his PhD as Wesleyan University and did postdoctoral research in Rolf Karlstrom’s lab at UMass, before joining the faculty at Smith College. He has a recent publication in the journal, Developmental Neurobiology that provides a comprehensive account of the cells that correlate with the timing and position of commissural axon pathfinding in the early forebrain that may be necessary for proper commissure development.

Here’s what else is new for ‘ ”University of Massachusetts” AND Amherst AND neuroscience’ in PubMed. These publications appeared online in May. They are just a fraction of the neuroscience research that occurs on campus. You can click on the PubMed ID to find the publication.

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Director’s Channel – May 2022

Paul Katz
Paul Katz, IONs Director

I’m excited that we will be holding the first in-person UMass Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference in three years on Thursday, May 26th in the Student Union Ballroom. We have two outstanding keynote speakers, Irina Rish and Tatyana Sharpee who each approach the intersection of Neuroscience and Artificial Intelligence from different angles. In addition, we will have five UMass speakers and over 30 posters from researchers at UMass. The merging of the fields of biological and machine learning is an exciting new direction.

We had a great response to our call for Inspiration Award proposals. We received twenty proposals from graduate students and postdocs in ten departments across four colleges for research projects at the interface of neuroscience and either engineering or computer sciences. We will announce the winners of the awards at the Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference.

I am also excited to announce that we will be hosting a two-part hands-on workshop by MathWorks on Thursday June 2nd to help researchers use MATLAB to apply Machine Learning to data analysis. We will have a listen and learn informational session on Thursday May 26th at 11am just before the Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of you later this month.


UMass IONs announces 2022 Inspiration Award winners

The Initiative on Neurosciences is pleased to announce the winners of the Inspiration Awards for Neuroscience and Technology. These awards were made directly to graduate students and postdoctoral research associates for research projects that intersect neuroscience with either computer science or engineering technology.

Twenty proposals were submitted from applicants in ten departments across four colleges. The three main criteria used in judging were creativity, feasibility, and integration of neuroscience with either computer science or engineering. We are hopeful that the winning proposals will lead to larger projects and continued collaboration in the future of merging neuroscience and technology. We are thrilled to announce the winners below, along with the abstracts accompanying their proposals. All awardees were recognized at the 3rd annual IONs Interdisciplinary Neurosciences Conference on May 26.

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