Congressman Hank Johnson to visit

On August 25th, the Neuroscience Institute is pleased to welcome Congressman Hank Johnson. He will visit the Sleep Diagnostics Unit to discuss the future of sleep medicine with several of the institute’s and MSM’s investigators.

Neuroscience Institute hosts summer research program for high school students

The Promoting Our Worth as Entrepreneurs and Researchers in Innovative Technology (POWER-IT) program is a collaborative effort with three Atlanta area high schools to introduce a hands-on neuroscience curriculum along with teachers to enrich the scientific experience for a diverse population of students interested in science.  POWER-IT is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) Neuroscience Institute.  POWER-IT is a research-based intervention program that promotes Georgia high school students’ education to prepare for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) during the school year. The POWER-IT Summer Academy provides high school students with an exciting week-long program of research training activities at MSM. Dr. Byron Ford is PI and Director of the POWER-IT program.

The POWER-IT curriculum is comprised of research modules that are accompanied by hands-on activities overseen by POWER-IT faculty and teachers from respective schools including: the Scientific Method (SM) with a problem based learning module on the SM, gross brain anatomy, hands-on sheep brain dissection, comparative brain anatomy, basic histology, immunostaining and  basic neuronal cell function. The Summer Academy held at MSM focuses on understanding the structure and function of the normal brain and of the injured brain, including stroke and traumatic brain injury, using current technologies that support neuroscience research. The program offers two one-week sessions as follows: June 9 – 13, 2014 and June 23 – 27, 2014. The three high schools are: North Springs Charter High School, Gwinnett School of Math-Science and Technology and Arabia Mountain High School

Dr. Elizabeth Klerman and Human Sleep Restriction

On March 28th, Dr. Klerman will be visiting the institute. Dr. Klerman hails from Harvard Medical School and is part of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Disorders. Dr Klerman’s current research focuses on  the interaction of endocrine, circadian, and sleep rhythms in normal and pathological states.

Dr. Klerman

Dr. David Van Essen and the Human Connectome Project

The Neuroscience Institute is pleased to host Dr. Van Essen on March 21st at 1230 pm in the second year classroom. David C. Van Essen is Alumni Endowed Professor in the Anatomy & Neurobiology Department. Along with
Kamil Ugurbil, he is Principal Investigator of the Human Connectome Project (
His studies of human cerebral cortex provide insights regarding normal variability, abnormalities in specific
diseases, and patterns of cortical development.

Dr. Van Essen

Sign-up for Career Development Opportunities under the U54!

For students, post-docs, staff and junior faculty:

1. Grant Writing Course – A one day course sponsored by FASEB entitled “Write Winning Grants Seminar” will be held here at MSM in the NCPC auditorium on Wednesday March 12. This one day seminar is geared for post-doctoral fellows (or staff equivalents) and junior faculty. Preregistration is required, and space may be limited so register as soon as possible. The registration site can be accessed by the following link:

2. Figure Presentation Discussions – We are initiating a quarterly seminar, where participants will be required to prepare and present a Figure or set of Figures (depending on how advanced their project is) from your own “in progress”, unpublished research work with a short half page synopsis of the results in the form of an expanded Figure Legend.

This seminar has a three-fold purpose: A) It will help you to organize your thoughts and research story in a manner appropriate for publication; B) You will practice disseminating the information to others; and C) You will review and critique others in their presentation. These discussions will be facilitated by faculty and open to all who wish to participate (from students to junior faculty). Figures presented should be publication quality (usually computer generated). If you are so early into your project that you still do not have any results, we would like to see Figures containing mock data of what you expect from your experiments. this preparation should not take more than a few hours (or less). Our first meeting will be Friday morning, March 7th. Please see me if you are interested.

The faculty members of the Neuroscience Institute hope that you will take advantage of the enrichment opportunities that have been made available.

If you have questions, contact

Neuron Publication for the Davidson Lab!


In this week’s Neuron, Dr. Jennifer Evans, until recently a post-doc in Dr. Alec Davidson’s lab, published a paper that helps to explain how different communication signals are used among neurons in the brain’s biological clock to control timing within the brain and body. Dr. Evans has recently begun an Assistant Professorship at Marquette University. Mammals, and nearly all species, have evolved strategies to efficiently interact in a cyclic world where light and darkness alternate on a 24h schedule. To predict and prepare for environmental changes rather than simply react to them, animals have a biological clock that helps to organize all behavior and physiology within this 24h day. For example, body temperature begins to rise and metabolic hormones begin to increase well-before sun-up in day-active humans. Although all cells appear to have the capability to oscillate in this way, the central clock in the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) seems to be the orchestra conductor, keeping time for all cells in the body. The SCN has direct input from the eyes to allow it to adjust its clock to light every day.


The SCN is made up of thousands of clock (AKA oscillator) neurons. To be a useful clock for the organism, these clocks need to all read the same time. Imagine a wall full of slightly imprecise clocks. Even if they were all started at the same time, they would drift apart and after a few days, all would show a different time. Not very useful. Thus these oscillator cells in the SCN need to communicate with one another to maintain synchrony, and this process is called ‘coupling’.


To see coupling in action, look at this cool YouTube video:


The study published by the Davidson lab investigates how this coupling occurs. Using state-of-the-art imaging techniques, they recorded the activity of SCN oscillator neurons while keeping them alive in brain slice culture. Using a gene borrowed from the firefly and integrated into the mouse genome, they were able to watch single SCN cells turn on and turn off over the day and night by recording tiny amounts of light being emitted by the cells. They observed that in brain slices from mice housed in normal 12:12 light:dark conditions, the population of cells is synchronized. But in long days consisting of 20h of light, regions of the SCN become desynchronized. They  authors leveraged this rearrangement, or photoperiodic reorganization of the SCN, to study how the SCN cells come back together, or resynchronize.  By blocking different types of communication amongst these SCN cells (e.g. all action potentials, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP), GABA), they determined that SCN cells use multiple signaling modalities, depending on what state the network is in. Sometimes these signals act to synchronize, such as GABA when cells are far apart in phase. Sometimes the same signals can be destabilizing, as is the case with GABA among cells that are already synchronized.  They also verified that VIP is indeed an important factor in SCN neuronal coupling, as has been reported by several other laboratories using other techniques.


The authors note that plasticity in the biological clock in the brain may reflect normal adjustment to different environmental conditions, but might also reflect a pathological state induced by long-days. Since we are all guilty of using artificial light to lengthen our days beyond the duration of sunlight, it would be useful to determine if altering our biological clocks in this way is harmful over a lifetime. Work in the Davidson lab is ongoing to investigate these types of questions.


Jennifer A. Evans, Tanya L. Leise, Oscar Castanon-Cervantes, Alec J. Davidson (2013). Dynamic Interactions Mediated by Nonredundant Signaling Mechanisms Couple Circadian Clock Neurons Neuron DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.08.022