PITTSBURGH -- Carnegie Mellon University neuroscientist Nathan Urban has received a $979,000 grant as part of a joint National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) program to elucidate how cellular and molecular changes in neurons lead to their synchronized firing. Ultimately, this work is critical to understanding brain disorders, such as schizophrenia, which are thought to involve disruption of neuronal synchronization. The research is part of a project Urban is conducting in collaboration with Bard Ermentrout, University Professor of Computational Biology in the University of Pittsburgh Department of Mathematics.
Neuronal synchronization, especially of high-frequency oscillations called gamma oscillations, is thought to be involved in perception and consciousness. Alterations in this synchrony have been implicated in schizophrenia, a chronic, severe and disabling brain disorder that affects about one percent of people worldwide, according to the NIMH.
"Understanding how normal gamma oscillations are generated is important for understanding disorders such as schizophrenia, which are associated with altered gamma activity," said Urban, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the Mellon College of Science.
The acute symptoms of schizophrenia are currently managed with pharmaceuticals, but understanding the basic mechanisms that underlie neuronal synchronization -- and how it goes awry -- may allow clinicians to treat the root cause of this disorder and not just the symptoms, Urban added.
Urban's NIMH/NSF funding arises from his discovery of stochastic synchrony, a novel mechanism for generating synchronous neuronal firing. With this latest award, he will further investigate the cellular- and circuit-level properties that orchestrate this coordinated neuronal activity.
"Using a combination of experimental and computational techniques, we have described stochastic synchron
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Carnegie Mellon University