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The Center for Behavioral Neuroscience: Making an Impact in Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Research

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The audience from the American University Symposium: Sex Differences: From Neuroscience to the Clinic and Beyond.

Nationally and internationally, behavioral neuroscientists are tackling the most complex problems related to both normal and abnormal behavior. These include disorders of the brain and behavior such as obesity, depression, addiction, and cognitive dementia, which are currently among the most costly, pernicious, and widespread threats to human health and quality of life. Behavioral neuroscientists also strive to learn more about the healthy brain and the types of nervous system processes that enable us to be fully functioning individuals. The mission of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University is to foster the development of a self-supporting, high-quality, multi-disciplinary hub of scientific research and training environment that can address these challenges.

To accomplish its mission, the Center brings together faculty and students from diverse fields including psychology, biology, neuroanatomy, physiology chemistry, physics, computer science, mathematics, the health sciences, and education. The Center connects professionals from these areas and others in a setting where students and faculty can work collaboratively to generate new ideas, methods, and concepts. In support of these efforts, the Center provides AU faculty and students with a variety of intellectual, physical, and financial resources.

Core Research Facilities

As a means of generating economies of space and operations much greater than those that would be available to any individual laboratory, the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience has established core research facilities that are at the disposal of Center members. The Cognitive Neuroscience Core enables Center researchers to study the human brain and nervous system with advanced Electroencephalographic (EEG), Galvanic Skin Response (GSR), and Transcrandial Direct Current Stimulation (TDCS). The Core Facility for Confocal Microscopy gives Center scientist the power of 3-D visualization of cells and structures in the nervous system with a resolution that is far beyond what can be achieved with conventional optical microscopes. The Physiology Assay Core includes shared facilities for histology, immunohistochemistry, optogenetic interrogation of brain tissue, magnetic resonance imaging of small animal body composition, spectrophotometry, high performance liquid chromatography, and other assays.

Programmatic Events and Activities

The Center organizes a weekly journal club that gives students a relaxed forum to hone their presentation skills and gives faculty members the opportunity to update other Center members and students about current research and theory projects in their respective fields. The Annual Center for Behavioral Neuroscience Retreat provides Center members and their students with the opportunity to share their own research findings and ideas. An important goal of this sharing of knowledge is to help identify areas of overlap or synergy that could be the basis for future for collaborative research efforts among Center members. The Center also sponsors and organizes international symposia that brings some of the world’s most acclaimed behavioral and neuroscientists to AU to discuss research topics of broad interest. In April 2017, the American University Symposium: Sex Differences: From Neuroscience to the Clinic and Beyond brought 14 speakers from 12 universities, including two faculty from AU, and a speaker from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to the AU campus, along with an audience of 66 attendees from 26 other universities, five different branches of NIH, the Federal Drug Administration and the Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR), and 44 faculty and students from AU. The proceedings of this symposium were recently published in a special issue of the highly-cited, international scientific journal Physiology & Behavior. The Center also co-sponsored the fall 2017 Meeting of the Optical Society of America. This meeting brought to campus many scientists who study human and nonhuman visual systems. In addition, throughout the year, the Center hosts the visits of nationally and internationally known scientists to give Research Colloquia to present their latest findings to Center members and the general public.

Support for AU Students

Although the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience is not a degree-granting entity, part of its mission is to support the research and training of students who work with Center faculty members. This year, the Center sponsored four competitive Summer Graduate Student Research Awards of $3,000 that were given to students in the Behavior, Cognition, and Neuroscience (BCaN) PhD program to help them complete research projects during the summer of 2018. In addition, two graduate students received Center for Behavioral Neuroscience Travel Awards of $1,000 each to defray the costs of travel and lodging to present research they conducted as part of their PhD training at national scientific meetings. In spring 2018, the Center also sponsored four awards to undergraduate students at AU that recognized their Outstanding Achievement by a Neuroscience Major. The Center also provides funds for Graduate Student Recruitment to the BCaN and the Clinical Psychology PhD programs to help defray the costs of visits to campus by the top applicants in both programs.

Research Achievement

The ability of the Center to support its programmatic initiatives and students is derived from the success of our faculty in obtaining external funding for their research. There are 15 Center faculty members who currently have funding from research agencies such as the NIH, the Department of Defense, and the National Science Foundation. The College of Arts and Sciences at AU provides support for the Center by returning a percentage of the overhead costs from these grants to the Center budget. Based on the return of these funds, the Center is now self-supporting.

The research success of our Center faculty members is also bringing much attention to AU from the international scientific community. The research of Associate Professor of Psychology Catherine Stoodley on the cerebellum and ADHD was recently featured on the cover of the highly-prestigious journal Nature Neuroscience. Psychology Professor Art Shapiro’s new book, The Oxford Compendium of Visual Illusion, won the best Single Volume Reference for Science published in 2017 at the American Publishers Awards! These are great achievements by two outstanding members of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. Also shining a spotlight on AU, the work of other Center members has been featured on National Public Radio, in Time, Inc’s Proto Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times and other high visibility outlets.

Research by the faculty and student members of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience expand basic and applied knowledge about the nervous system and its role in adaptive and maladaptive behavior. These achievements will also enhance the global stature and visibility of all the sciences at American University.