BRAIN and BEHAVIOR INITIATIVE WEEKLY DIGEST

January 21, 2020


UMD News

Research has already shown that up to half of all children diagnosed with ADHD have parents with untreated ADHD as well. UMD psychologists now want to determine whether treating parents with the disorder will improve their parenting and help their children with a shared diagnosis.
People with dementia in the U.S. are notoriously left out of the conversation about their own healthcare decisions. Now, one UMD information scientist is exploring how technology can enable those with dementia to remain involved in decision making and to age in their own homes.

Seed Grant Program RFP

 
Over the last four years, BBI has awarded seed funding to 27 teams of innovative interdisciplinary researchers from nearly 30 departments, centers, and institutes across campus. These have been extremely successful: BBI's $1.75M investment has yielded $12.5M in funding from NIH, NSF, and AFOSR.
 
Brief Statement of Intent: March 2, 2020
Full Proposal Deadline: March 30, 2020
 
Please see this year's Frequently Asked Questions, or direct queries to bbiumd@umd.edu.

News

All of us make many decisions every day. For most things, there’s usually no right answer, so we decide using values rooted in our past experiences. Now, neuroscientists have identified the part of the mammalian brain that stores information essential to such value-based decision making. Researchers zeroed in on a particular brain region known as the retrosplenial cortex and captured in real time what goes on in the brains of mice as they make decisions. While such neural activity isn’t usually visible, in this case researchers genetically engineered mice so that their neurons, when activated, expressed a protein that glowed.
Frontotemporal dementia is the most common type of early onset dementia, typically beginning between ages 40 and 65 and affecting the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. A subgroup of patients with frontotemporal dementia have a specific genetic mutation that prevents brain cells from making a protein called progranulin. Although progranulin is not widely understood, its absence is linked to the disease. Now, a group of researchers have discovered that, after aminoglycoside antibiotics were added to neuronal cells with this mutation, the cells started making the full-length progranulin protein by skipping the mutation.
Neurologists had long assumed that brain diseases impacting language abilities would manifest in essentially the same way in patients around the world. However, recent discoveries have begun to question that assumption. New research shows that English and Italian speakers with dementia-related language impairment experience distinct kinds of speech and reading difficulties based on features of their native languages. For instance, Italian speakers with dyslexia tend to have less severe reading impairment than English or French speakers due to Italian’s simpler and more phonetic spelling.
Computers are being trained to “see” the patterns of disease hidden in our cells and tissues, and now comes word of yet another remarkable use of computer-generated artificial intelligence: swiftly providing neurosurgeons with valuable, real-time information about what type of brain tumor is present, while the patient is still on the operating table. Sending out a biopsy to an expert pathologist and getting back a diagnosis traditionally takes about 40 minutes, but the researchers found they could take a small tumor biopsy during surgery, feed it into a trained computer in the operating room, and receive a diagnosis that rivals the accuracy of an expert pathologist.
About four years ago, pathologist Matthew Anderson was examining slices of postmortem brain tissue from an individual with autism under a microscope when he noticed something extremely odd: T cells swarming around a narrow space between blood vessels and neural tissue. The cells were somehow getting through the blood-brain barrier. He soon identified more T-cell swarms in a few other postmortem brains of people who had been diagnosed with autism. Anderson tested whether the neurological features he was observing were specific to autism by examining postmortem brain samples from 25 people with ASD and 30 developmentally normal controls.
When a human or animal is about to perform an action, its dopamine neurons make a prediction about the expected reward. Once the actual reward is received, the neurons fire off an amount of dopamine that corresponds to the prediction error. The dopamine, in other words, serves as a correction signal, telling the neurons to adjust their predictions until they converge to reality. Now, researchers have uncovered new details about how dopamine helps the brain learn by optimizing reinforcement-learning algorithms—specifically, by introducing an improved reinforcement-learning algorithm that changes the way it predicts rewards.
While the brain itself has no direct way for disposing of cellular waste, tiny vessels lining the interior of the skull collect tissue waste and dispose of it through the body’s lymphatic system. It is this disposal system that researchers exploited to offer an immunotherapeutic treatment for glioblastoma patients. The researchers introduced the gene known as vascular endothelial growth factor C, or VEGF-C, into the cerebrospinal fluid of mice with glioblastoma and observed an increased level of T cell response to tumors in the brain. When combined with immunotherapy, the VEGF-C treatment significantly extended survival.
When you expect a bad experience and then it doesn’t happen, you have a distinctly positive feeling. A new study of fear extinction training in mice may suggest why: the brain cells that are key for learning not to feel afraid anymore are the same ones that help encode feelings of reward. Specifically, the study shows that fear extinction memories and feelings of reward alike are stored by neurons that express the gene Ppp1r1b in the posterior of the basolateral amygdala, a region known to assign associations of aversive or rewarding feelings, or “valence,” with memories.
Researchers have shown therapeutic efficacy of a new experimental drug in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease and a rare genetic form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. The small molecule increases the activity of a subset of neurotransmitter (NMDA) receptors that are found at synapses. These receptors are known to support cognition and memory by enhancing communication between neurons. The new research shows that enhancing the activity of synaptic NMDA receptors helps restore the brain’s rhythms to normal patterns and improves memory.
Researchers report that in an alcohol-dependent mouse model, the rodent brain’s functional architecture is substantially remodeled, but when deprived of alcohol, the mice displayed increased coordinated brain activity and reduced modularity. The findings also identified several previously unsuspected regions of the brain relevant to alcohol consumption.
Xenobots are tiny living robots that have been created using cells taken from frog embryos. Each is less than a millimeter across, but one can propel itself through water using two stumpy limbs, while another has a kind of pouch that it could use to carry a small load. Such robots could one day be used to clean up microplastics, digest toxic materials, or even deliver drugs inside human bodies.
This first-person account of UH's Brain and Behavior Lab describes the experience of encountering some commonly-used tools in cognitive neuroscience from a lay perspective. In particular, the writer mentions a new technology called Optically Pumped Magnetometry (OPM), a new type of MEG device. UH is the first university laboratory in the U.S. with access to OPM.

Calendar of Events

fNIRS Seminar
Speaker: Afrouz Anderson (NIRx Medical Technologies)
Title: "Application of Functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy Toward Understanding the Neurocognitive Function"
Date: Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Location: 0215 Edward St. John Center
More info


Funding Announcements

Please visit bbi.umd.edu/news/FOA for the complete list of open Funding Announcements.
 
The NSF invites applications to its Division of Integrative Organismal Systems Core Programs supporting research aimed at understanding why organisms are structured the way they are and function as they do. Multiple awards with a combined total of up to $60 million may be made. Applications are accepted anytime.
 
The NSF invites applications to its Enabling Discovery through Genomic Tools program supporting genomic research that addresses the mechanistic basis of complex traits in diverse organisms within the context (environmental, developmental, social, and/or genomic) in which they function. Up to 15 awards with a combined total of up to $10 million may be made. Applications are accepted anytime.
 
*New!* The Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood invites applications for grants supporting Research on Improving the Welfare of Young Children through identifying models that provide creative and caring environments; improve the quality of both early childhood teaching and learning; or teach parents about developmental psychology, cultural child rearing differences, pedagogy, issues of health, prenatal care and diet, as well as programs which provide both cognitive and emotional support to parents. Letters of intent due January 31, 2020
 
The American Psychological Foundation invites applications to its Early Career Award supporting talented young psychologists making contributions towards informing, advocating for and improving the mental health and well-being of children and families, particularly through policy. Applications due January 31, 2020.
 
*New!* The NIH and NIAAA invite R01 applications for the Development and Application of PET and SPECT Imaging Ligands as Biomarkers for Drug Discovery and for Pathophysiological Studies of CNS Disorders (PAR-20-037 and PAR-20-038) by imaging the rodent and nonhuman primate brain and incorporating pilot or clinical feasibility evaluations in pre-clinical studies and appropriate model development. Standard application due dates apply—February 5, 2020, June 5, 2020, etc.
 
The NIH invites R01 and R21 applications to its Engineering Next-Generation Human Nervous System Microphysiological Systems (PAR-20-055 and PAR-20-082) program to develop next-generation human cell-derived microphysiological systems and related assays that replicate complex nervous system architectures and physiology with improved fidelity over current capabilities. Standard application due dates apply—e.g. February 5, 2020 for non-AIDS related R01 applications.
 
*New!* The Simons Foundation invites applications for its Young Investigator Fellowships in Neuroscience program supporting cutting-edge investigations by highly promising, early career scientists. Applications due February 15, 2020.
 
The Klingenstein Fund and the Simons Foundation invite applications for the Klingensten-Simons Fellowship Awards in Neuroscience. Areas of particular interest include cellular and molecular neuroscience, neural systems, and translational research. Applications due February 15, 2020.
 
*New!* The American Psychological Foundation invites applications for its Trauma Psychology Research Grants supporting innovative work to alleviate trauma. Applications are due February 15, 2020.
 
The NIBIB Trailblazer Award is an opportunity for NIH-defined New and Early Stage Investigators to pursue research programs that integrate engineering and the physical sciences with the life and/or biomedical sciences. A Trailblazer project may be exploratory, developmental, proof of concept, or high risk-high impact, and may be technology design-directed, discovery-driven, or hypothesis-driven. Importantly, applicants must propose research approaches for which there are minimal or no preliminary data. Standard application due dates apply—e.g. February 16, 2020 for non-AIDS related R21 applications.
 
The American Psychological Foundation invites applications to its F. J. McGuigan Early Career Investigator Research Grant on Understanding the Human Mind to support research that aims to address any aspect of mental function (e.g., cognition, affect, motivation) and seeks to understand the mind from both a behavioral and neural perspective. Applications due March 1, 2020.
 
The NIH invites R21 applications to its Methods and Measurement in Research with Sexual and Gender Minority (SGM) Populations (RFA-MD-20-005) program to advance the measurement of constructs relevant to health research with SGM populations. Applications due March 13, 2020
 
The National Institute on Aging invites R01 applications to conduct research on the Glial Plasticity in the Aging Brain (RFA-AG-21-010) to support research addressing critical knowledge gaps in our understanding of how these glial subpopulations could contribute to vulnerability and resilience to brain aging. Applications due June 17, 2020.
 
*New!* The NSF Linguistics Program Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Awards support basic science in the domain of human language, encompassing investigations of the grammatical properties of individual human languages, and in the areas including syntax, linguistic semantics and pragmatics, morphology, phonetics, and phonology. Applications due July 15, 2020.
 
The NIDA is issuing this Notice of Special Interest (NOT-DA-20-012) is to inform potential applicants of its interest in research project applications focusing on discovery, development and validation of drug addiction biomarkers, biosignatures and elucidation of substance use disorder biotypes, with an emphasis on machine learning and artificial intelligence based analytical approaches. Expires May 7, 2023.
 
The NIDA is issuing this Notice of Special Interest (NOT-DA-20-007) to highlight its interest in preclinical and clinical research to advance the understanding of the effects of concomitant use of opioids and stimulants. Research objectives are to support mechanism-based approaches that will 1) elucidate factors and mechanisms mediating the toxic effects of concomitant opioid and stimulant use and 2) point to new therapeutic targets and prevention strategies. Expires June 5, 2023.

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