Four brain image scans of rhesus monkeys in Yuri Saalmann's neuroscience lab (courtesy Y. Saalmann lab).

Image showing fronto-parietal connections in the human brain. (Courtesy of Yuri Saalmann)

Neuroscience scientific working group

Advancing our understanding of the nervous system, from cellular and molecular mechanisms to behavior, is the focus of the NWG. Translational research is the group’s major emphasis and includes important research on learning and memory, neural development, stem cells, sensory and motor systems, cognition and affect, appetitive behaviors, plasticity, neuroendocrine regulation of reproductive function and neurobiology of disease.

State-of-the-art brain imaging facilities on campus enable both high-resolution analysis of neuropathophysiological by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and molecular imaging with positron emission tomography (PET), as well as MRI-directed delivery of transgene or stem cell therapy designed to combat progressively disabling neural diseases.

Taking advantage of this wealth of campus support, the NWG has capitalized on nonhuman primate models to obtain competitive funding from the NIH, industry and foundations. This has enabled cutting-edge research focused in four major areas: 1) neuroimaging; 2) cognition and mental illness; 3) homeostasis/neuroendocrine function; and 4) neurodegenerative diseases.


  • Understanding emotion and anxiety, toward better treatments and interventions for psychological disorders. (Ned Kalin group)
  • Identifying genes and epigenetic factors underlying psychopathologic disorders. (Reid Alisch and Luis Populin groups)
  • Uncovering the mechanisms of higher brain function, including studying therapeutic targets for disorders of consciousness (Yuri Saalmann group) and understanding the actions of methylphenidate (Ritalin), used for treating deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Luis Populin and Zhen Huang groups)
  • Translating research into better treatments for glaucoma and presbyopia. (Paul Kaufman and Michael Nork groups)
  • Providing new information about lifespan health trajectories following early life stresses. (Allyson Bennett and Peter Pierre groups)
  • Understanding the neuroendocrine regulation of puberty onset. (Ei Terasawa group)
  • Discovering neuroestradiol regulation of GnRH release in adult females. (Terasawa group)
  • Determining for the first time in any primate species the importance of estrogen receptor alpha (ERα) in the regulation of energy homeostasis. (Jon Levine, David Abbott, Ricki Colman and Cynthia Bethea groups)
  • Understanding neurohormonal regulation of paternal behavior (Toni Ziegler group)
  • Developing a non-invasive newborn biomarker for fetal exposure to stress during pregnancy. (Amita Kapoor and Toni Ziegler groups)
  • Contributing preclinical drug evaluation for FDA approval of “Addyi” (flibanserin) for women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, or HSDD. (David Abbott and Alexander Converse groups)
  • Discovering that fetal testosterone exposure programs polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)-like neuroendocrine and metabolic dysfunction in female monkeys. (David Abbott, Dan Dumesic and Jon Levine groups)
  • Developing nonhuman primate models and preclinical therapies for Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases (Marina Emborg, Su-Chun Zhang, James Thomson and Ted Golos groups)
  • Detecting beneficial effects of calorie restriction (CR) on the brain through neuroimaging. (Ricki Colman, Richard Weindruch, Sterling Johnson, and Andrew Alexander groups, with collaborators at the NIA and elsewhere.)
  • Discovering that oral administration of pioglitazone is neuroprotective when administered early after inducing a parkinsonian syndrome in nonhuman primates. (Marina Emborg, Jeffrey Johnson and Joseph Kemnitz groups, with industry colleagues)
  • Discovering that pioglitazone (see previous) has cardiac sympathetic neuroprotection properties. (Marina Emborg, Tim Kamp and James Holden groups)
  • Establishing nonhuman primate models for preclinical evaluation of pluripotent stem cell based therapies of Parkinson’s Disease. (Marina Emborg and Su-Chun Zhang groups)
  • Publishing an MRI developmental brain atlas for the rhesus macaque: an invaluable resource for nonhuman primate neuroscience research worldwide. (Andrew Alexander and Christopher Coe groups)
  • Achieving high resolution nonhuman primate molecular neuroimaging through microPET scanning, to better model the developmental origins of many diseases and disorders. (Waisman Center)
  • Understanding the development of retinal cells in relation to macular degeneration and age-related blindness. (Anita Hendrickson group)
  • Exploring the effects of dietary fatty acids on adolescent depression (Toni Ziegler and Ricki Colman groups)
  • Developing effective pharmaceuticals that can safely cross the blood-brain barrier and treat neurological diseases. (Marina Emborg and Andrew Alexander groups, with industry colleagues)
  • Engineering a rhesus monkey induced pluripotent stem cell line using the CRISPR Cas9 gene editing technology, with a bi-directional switch to express an active or inhibitor form of designer receptor exclusively activated by a designer drug, or DREADD. (Su-Chun Zhang and Marina Emborg groups)
  • Testing the feasibility of intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging (iMRI) delivery of mutated chloride channels into the subthalamic region of the brain using an adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector to ameliorate Parkinson’s symptoms. (Veronica Vanderhorst and Marina Emborg groups)

The Neuroscience Working Group includes approximately 25 scientists, veterinarians and physicians from 6 universities, clinics and institutions.

Please direct research and collaboration queries to:

Jon Levine, Ph.D.
Phone: (608) 890-3517
Send email to Dr. Levine

Ei Terasawa, Ph.D.
Phone: (608) 263-3579
Send email to Dr. Terasawa