2014 MBI Fellowship Awardees

The McKnight Brain Institute is pleased to congratulate our 2014 Fellowship Awardees

The MBI Fellowships were established to support students and fellows conducting neuroscience and brain-related research in MBI affiliated laboratories.  Two winners were selected and will each receive $50,000 ($25,000/year for two years).  Two runner-ups were also selected and will each receive $10,000 ($5,000/year for two years).

Pre-Doctoral Fellow Awardee:
Brittany Butler, Department of Neuroscience
Mentor:  Dr. Habibeh Khoshbouei

“Biophysical properties of dopamine transporter regulated by Alpha-Synuclein”
The greatest challenge in treatment of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases, where brain dopamine levels are dysregulated, are to determine the precise underlying molecular mechanisms and develop therapies addressing such mechanisms. The Dopamine transporter regulates the synaptic tone of dopamine in the brain by removing the released dopamine from the synapse, thus limiting the strength and duration of dopaminergic signaling in the brain. A number of protein partners of dopamine transporter have been identified and shown to modify the activity of the transporter, one being alpha-synuclein, a neuronal protein enriched at presynaptic terminals. My dissertation research seeks to elucidate the influence of alpha-synuclein on the biophysical properties of dopamine transporter by examining alpha-synuclein regulation of transporter mediated dopamine uptake, dopamine efflux and surface membrane localization of the transporter. The results of my research will potentially reveal novel therapeutic approaches to treat pathologies where dopamine neurotransmission is dysregulated.

Pre-Doctoral Fellow Runner-up:
Douglas Bennion, Department of Physiology
Mentor:  Dr. Colin Sumners

“Neuroprotective Effects and Mechanisms of Post-Stroke Activation of the ACE2-ANG-(1-7)-Mas Axis”
As the 4th leading cause of death in the United States, stroke affects nearly every American in some way. Current therapies for treating patients in the hours and days immediately following stroke are limited and no approved therapies exist that are specifically designed to induce neuroprotection. We expect our research will provide important information regarding the protective benefits of targeted activation of the brain renin angiotensin system as a novel approach to stroke treatment. Using methods that are clinically-feasible and at post-stroke time points, our models mimic what an actual stroke patient might receive following stroke onset, an approach that is consistent with our long term goal of translating research on the brain’s endogenous angiotensin systems into bedside therapeutics for stroke victims.

Post-Doctoral Fellow Awardee:
Joseph McQuail, Department of Neuroscience
Mentor:  Dr. Jennifer Bizon

“The role of Prefrontal Cortical NMDA receptors in age-related Cognitive Decline”
Mechanistic studies of cognitive aging have traditionally focused on hippocampal-dependent declarative memory systems; however, prefrontal cortical-supported executive functions decline in an almost linear fashion with advanced aging and such decline can significantly and deleteriously impact the ability of senior citizens to effectively manage instrumental activities of daily living (e.g., balancing finances and making optimal health care choices). My research in the labs of Dr. Jennifer Bizon and Dr. Barry Setlow will pair molecular and electrophysiological approaches with behavioral analyses to determine how the aging process impacts excitatory and inhibitory signaling within the prefrontal cortex and how such changes contribute to a decline of cognitive capacities supported by this brain region. We will further target signaling deficits using pharmacological and viral-mediated approaches to determine if restoring appropriate excitatory-inhibitory dynamics in this brain region can reverse age-related deficits in executive function.

Post-Doctoral Fellow Runner-up:
Cailtin Orsini, Department of Psychiatry
Mentor:  Dr. Barry Setlow

“Risk-taking and the Amygdala:  Neural Circuitry and Impact of Chronic Cocaine”
Drug addiction is associated with high levels of risk-taking behavior, which may promote continued drug use and relapse. My research in the laboratories of Dr. Barry Setlow and Dr. Jennifer Bizon will determine how brain mechanisms underlying risk-taking become compromised by chronic drug use. In particular, I am using a combination of behavioral pharmacological and in vivo electrophysiological approaches to determine how the amygdala and its connections with other brain structures become altered after chronic drug use, and how such alterations contribute to maladaptive risk-taking behavior. My hope is that findings from these experiments will inform treatment strategies for individuals battling addiction.