Local Neuroscientists Shine at First Annual Spring Neuroscience Meeting

The Triangle SfN meeting was kicked off by three excellent talks from local speakers: two from our chapter and one from the neighboring Western NC Chapter.

The first speaker was Dr. Gina Carelli from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Carelli is in the Department of Psychology, where she is the Stephen B. Baxter Distinguished Professor & Associate Chair. She earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in Psychology from Rutgers University, and ventured south to pursue postdoctoral training with Dr. Sam Deadwyler at Wake Forest University. She stayed in North Carolina for her first faculty position, at UNC, where she has risen from Assistant Professor to her present rank. She was awarded a
Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2001. Dr. Carelli’s laboratory investigates how information about both natural and drug rewards is processed in the brain and used to guide actions. In her talk to the chapter, she discussed recent work focused on teasing apart the neural circuitry underlying choices between rewards of differing values, using cutting-edge
optogenetic tools. Her findings emphasize the important role of the nucleus accumbens in such choices, and further suggest that the core and shell subdivisions each play distinct roles specific to reward disparity type.

The second talk was from recent Triangle transplant Dr. Steve Lisberger of Duke University. Dr. Lisberger is the George Barth Geller Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurobiology as well as an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Dr. Lisberger studied mathematics as an undergraduate at Cornell University; he turned to neuroscience in graduate school, where he began investigating the role of the cerebellum in controlling eye movements at the University of Washington with Dr. Ed Fuchs. He completed his postdoctoral training at the NIH and accepted his first faculty position at the University of California, San Francisco in 1981, where he rose from Assistant to Full Professor and was the founding director of the W.M. Keck Foundation Center for Integrative Neurosciences.

Dr. Lisberger began his current position at Duke in 2012. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received both the Young Investigator Award and the Outstanding Mentoring Award from the Society for Neuroscience. In his talk, Dr. Lisberger discussed recent work from his lab investigating the mechanisms of motor learning by “listening to the cerebellum while it works.” His findings identify sites of synaptic plasticity in the cerebellum that underlie learned control of eye movements. Moreover, these findings provide insights into the neural bases of motor skill learning.


The final local speaker talk was given by Dr. Emilio Salinas of the Wake Forest School of Medicine. Dr. Salinas is an Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director in the
Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy. He received his undergraduate degree in Physics from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), followed by a PhD in Biophysics at Brandies University, where he worked with computational neuroscientist Larry Abbott. He returned to UMAN for postdoctoral training in electrophysiology under Dr. Ranulfo Romo, followed by postdoctoral research at the Salk Institute. Dr. Salinas accepted his first faculty position at Wake Forest, where he risen from Assistant to Associate Professor. Dr. Salinas uses a combination of
physiological and computational methods to explain the dynamical properties of spiking networks, how neurons represent and transform sensory information, and how information is integrated in the brain to guide behavior. His talk focused on recent studies of signals in the frontal cortex associated with rapid perceptual decision-making. His findings show how reward and perceptual information can interact to modulate the speed of decisionmaking and provide insights into the mechanisms of motor planning. This was a particularly apt final talk in that it explicitly tied together the reward and motor systems highlighted in the two prior talks.

Taken together, the local speaker talks were well attended and each elicited a lively question and answer period.

Story by Charlotte Boettiger, UNC-CH

Article originally appeared in in the May 2015 issue of The Triangle Transmitter.

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