The two-year, $45,000 award will fund Sommer's research into how brain areas communicate with each other during normal behaviors, and how this communication breaks down in such mental disorders as schizophrenia. Sommer studies the signals sent from deep brain structures, such as the cerebellum, to the prefrontal cortex, considered to be the seat of cognitive abilities.
Sommer is investigating how this input to prefrontal cortex normally influences how we see, move, and make decisions, and how the flow of information is altered in an animal model of schizophrenia. To do this, he "eavesdrops" on single nerve cells using fine electrodes with microscopic tips, and also determines the inputs and outputs of the cells.
"Marc's approach, the creativity he brings to what he does, is quite unusual for a starting-out scientist," said Alan Sved, chair of Pitt's neuroscience department. "There's no question in my mind and those of the faculty in the department that Marc is the most outstanding young scientist now working in the area of sensorimotor processing in primate cortex."
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit institution, was established in 1934 by Alfred Pritchard Sloan Jr., then-president and chief executive officer of the General Motors Corporation. The Sloan Research Fellowships were established in 1955 to provide support and recognition to early-career scientists and scholars, often in their first appointments to university faculties, who were endeavoring to set up laboratories and establish their independent research projects with little or no outside support. Currently, a total of 116 fellowships are awarded annually in seven fields: chemistry, computational
Contact: Karen Hoffmann
University of Pittsburgh