Basic Science Research
What is the relationship between brain activity and conscious thought? Like other difficult questions in science, a good model system is needed so that this question can be investigated. I have chosen epilepsy as a model system for investigating consciousness, because in epilepsy there is a spectrum of levels of consciousness, which may be explained in terms of different states of brain activity.
All human beings experience arousal state transitions on a daily basis. The ability to transition from wakefulness and sleep and back to wakefulness involves an intricate series of underlying regulatory mechanisms. While the reason that we sleep is not entirely clear, it is very clear that daily sleep is necessary. Being able to transition out of sleep spontaneously, or in response to a stimulus (eg. alarm clock, crying baby, smell of smoke, etc) is of vital importance to our existence.
My lab explores two related themes, those of synapse loss and neurodegeneration. Synapse loss is an early, defining event in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease. In these prolonged diseases, decreases in synapse density are the best correlates of disease progression.Yet, little is known about the pathways that maintain synapses and their roles in aging and neurodegeneration. We are characterizing a novel presynaptic mechanism for the prevention of synapse loss and neurodegeneration involving the co-chaperone Cysteine String Protein alpha. We are also screening for new synapse maintenance genes using a dissociated neuronal culture system.
The Cotsapas lab is a computational genetics group based in the Department of Neurology. They use genetics to discover and understand the mechanisms that give rise to disease. The lab is particularly interested in disorders of the immune system and brain.
The overall interest of our laboratory centers around cells in the so called "neurovascular unit" (neurons, endothelium, astrocytes, pericytes and microglia). We aim at learning about the dynamic properties of these cells and how cell-cell interactions are disrupted in vascular and neurodegenerative pathologies.
Dr. Hafler is a clinical neurologist trained experimentally as an immunologist. Dr. Hafler’s research has characterized human immune responses to autoantigens, developed an understanding of the underlying loss of regulation of immune responses leading to human autoimmune disease, and is actively involved in identifying the genetic variation associated with human inflammatory immune responses. As a clinician actively engaged in the development of clinical trials, his laboratory is actively engaged in the translation of experimental findings to therapies for human diseases.
The research program in my laboratory focuses on two broad themes. We are working on the molecular basis of a number of physiological phenomena related to the hearing and balance organs. In addition we also work on molecular events relating to synaptic function in cholinergic neurons in the brain.
Dr. O’Connor’s research program centers on elucidating an elementary unknown in many autoimmune diseases; the antigen specificity of B cells. The program focuses particularly on multiple sclerosis (MS), although it has been extended to include the inflammatory myopathies and germ cell derived turmors.