Neuroscience Research Group

The study of the nervous system and its relationship with body, mind, and behavior requires a multidisciplinary, collaborative enterprise to unravel the complex anatomical, physiological, and cognitive processes underlying behavioral manifestations. Current basic and clinical neuroscience research conducted within St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences aims to shed light on the multiple neural processes of normal and pathological behaviors.

Current Research

RNA Splicing in Neurons

The central nervous system comprises the tissues and cells with the highest rate of alternative splicing in the body, and RNA-binding proteins play a major functional role in neurons in both normal conditions and in disease. To better understand the contribution of RNA processing to nerve cell biology, and to help elucidate the function that RNA processing regulators play in neuron physiology and neurologic disorders, it is necessary to identify which RNA-binding proteins are involved in these biological pathways, and to characterize how they work at the molecular level.

Dr. Ruggiu’s long-term goal is to understand the molecular mechanisms regulating protein-RNA networks that control alternative splicing, and how they relate to neuron biology, and to disease of the nervous system. This research is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

To read more about Dr. Ruggiu's research, view his faculty profile

Determining Cell Death Pathways Activated in ALS Models

Determining Cell Death Pathways Activated in ALS Models

The purpose of Dr. Yang’s research is to explore cell death pathways in human disease context using genomics, small molecules, and metabolomic tools. The immediate goal is to characterize cell death pathways in degenerating motor neurons in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) models. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is caused by selective cell death in motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. The mode of cell death in ALS motor neuron has been poorly characterized, which may prevent development of efficient therapy for the disease. Determination of cell death pathways involved in motor neuron cell death in ALS models should provide critical information for the development of ALS therapy approaches. The study is based on in vitro models of ALS including NSC-34 cell line (mouse motor neuron-like cell line) and iPS-MNs (ALS patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells and their differentiated motor neurons) for cell death analysis. Discoveries from in vitro analysis will be confirmed in a mouse model of ALS.

To read more about Dr. Yang's research, view his faculty profile

Molecular Neuroscience: Ion Channel Function and Regulation

Ion channels play crucial roles in all kinds of cells, especially excitable cells such as neuron and muscle cells. Dr. Yu’s lab uses the combination of molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics, electrophysiology, and crystallography to study the molecular mechanism of the function and regulation of ion channels in physiological and pathologic conditions. Currently, the major focus in the lab is transient receptor potential (TRP) channels, a group of ion channels that play critical roles in sensory physiology. So far, TRP channels have been shown to be essential for the formation of sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, temperature, and pain sensation. The NIH-funded research in Dr. Yu’s lab aims to shed light into the molecular mechanism of the function of ion channels in neurobiology and its relevance to neurological disorders.

To read more about Dr. Yu's research, view his faculty profile

Dr. Deshpande is a nationally-accredited audiologist whose research investigates the use of a variety of hearing testing procedures (including the use of “brainwaves”) for studying typical versus atypical listeners. She collaborates with national and international researchers for her auditory neuroscience projects and studies different populations, like adults and children with typical hearing abilities, individuals with cochlear implants and professionally trained musicians. This research has implications for the development and implementation of better intervention protocols for individuals with impaired auditory perception and processing.

To read more about Dr. Deshpande's research, view her faculty profile.

Dr. Wagner collaborates with neuroscientist Dr. Mitchell Steinschneider, neurolinguist Dr. Valerie Shafer, and hearing scientist and audiologist Dr. Brett Martin on these and other projects that examine auditory cortical processing of speech in English, Spanish, German and Russian speakers. She also collaborates on research examining sensory processing within the auditory cortex in infants and, with Dr. Jungmee Lee, is currently working on the development of computer scripts for large scale data analysis.

Recognition of Spoken Words within the Auditory Cortex

Dr. Wagner conducts research to uncover brain mechanisms that allow spoken words to be recognized for comprehension within the auditory cortex. Each spoken word that travels into our ears as sound waves contains unique characteristics. These characteristics are transmitted to high levels of the brain within the auditory cortex. Dr. Wagner’s research has identified brain wave patterns within the electroencephalogram (EEG), recorded from the scalp surface, that reflect recognition of spoken words (Wagner et al., 2016). Her research shows that these brainwave patterns do not change when modifying levels of attention (Wagner et al., in preparation) and has identified normal patterns of variability for brain responses to naturally spoken words (Wagner et al., under revision). Her research is now directed towards determining the way individuals with speech and language impairment, auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, and autism recognize spoken words for comprehension within the auditory cortex. 

Native-Language Patterns of Speech Perception

Individuals who learn a second language as an adult have difficulty pronouncing non-native sounds. It is less commonly known, however, that these individuals also have difficulty hearing these non-native sounds. Dr. Wagner examined native-Polish and native-English listeners and found that Polish listeners could distinguish words that began with “pt” versus “pet,” a contrast that occurs only in the Polish language, whereas English listeners could not. She found that late stage cortical processing of speech reflected these behavioral patterns (Wagner et al., 2012) and early stages reflected the physical characteristics of the stimuli (Wagner et al., 2013). Her current research manipulates attention to determine whether brain wave patterns at intermediate stages reflect a transition from physical processing to language-specific processing. 

To read more about Dr. Wagner's research, view her faculty profile.

The Neurodevelopment of Speech Processing in Monolingual versus Bilingual Children

Dr. Yu contributes to an NIH-funded study led by Dr. Valerie L. Shafer of the Graduate Center, CUNY examining brain responses in monolingual English-learning children and bilingual English-Spanish learning children from three months to seven years of age. Results have shown that sex and age, relative to language experience, play a larger role in early cortical processing of speech. Results from these studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals such as: Ear and HearingNeuroscience Letters; the International Journal of Psychophysiology; and the Journal of Phonetics.

The Neurodevelopment of Semantic Processing in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Dr. Yu collaborates on a “High Risk and High Impact” project by Autism Speaks, headed by Dr. April Benasich and Dr. Valerie Shafer. This investigation, which is the first neurophysiological study on nonverbal children with autism spectrum disorders, focuses on examining electrocortical activity associated with visual and auditory sensory perception and lexical-semantic processing in nonverbal and minimally-verbal children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. One of the main findings thus far is that children with autism showed delayed basic perceptual processing in both visual and auditory domains but the overall patterns of their brain responses are similar to those of typically developing children. At higher-order lexical-semantic level, children with autism showed absent or reduced processes compared with their typically developing peers. Results from this study have direct implications on assessing and treating children with autism and other hard-to-evaluate individuals with language disorders.

The Neural Mechanism of Mandarin Lexical Tone Processing

Language experience enhances discrimination of speech contrasts at a behavioral-perceptual level as well as a brain neuronal level. The enhanced sensitivity could be the result of changes in acoustic resolution and/or long-term memory representations of the relevant information in the auditory cortex. This study aims to examine the influence of acoustic resolution and long-term memory on Mandarin lexical tone processing at the cortical level. Findings from this investigation will shed light into brain plasticity on second language learning.

Read more about Dr. Yu's research on her faculty profile

The Neurodevelopment of Speech Processing in Monolingual versus Bilingual Children

 

The Neurodevelopment of Speech Processing in Monolingual versus Bilingual Children