Neuroscience and Neurological Disorders

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Salk Institute for Biological Studies - Neuroscience and Neurological Disorders - News

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Fruit fly brains inform search engines of the future

LA JOLLA—Every day, websites you visit and smartphone apps that you use are crunching huge sets of data to find things that resemble each other: products that are similar to your past purchases; songs that are similar to tunes you’ve liked; faces that are similar to people you’ve identified in photos. All these tasks are known as similarity searches, and the ability to perform these massive matching games well—and fast—has been an ongoing challenge for computer scientists.


“Busybody” protein may get on your nerves, but that’s a good thing

LA JOLLA—Sensory neurons regulate how we recognize pain, touch, and the movement and position of our own bodies, but the field of neuroscience is just beginning to unravel this circuitry. Now, new research from the Salk Institute shows how a protein called p75 is critical for pain signaling, which could one day have implications for treating neurological disorders as well as trauma such as spinal cord injury.


Salk neurobiologist receives NIH Director’s New Innovator award

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Assistant Professor Eiman Azim has been named an NIH Director’s New Innovator for 2017 as part of the National Institutes of Health’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program. The award provides $1.5 million for a 5-year project during which Azim will explore how the nervous system controls dexterous movements.


Partnership for a healthy brain

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists have discovered that an interaction between two key proteins helps regulate and maintain the cells that produce neurons. The work, published in Cell Stem Cell on September 14, 2017, offers insight into why an imbalance between these precursor cells and neurons might contribute to mental illness or age-related brain disease.


Salk computational neurobiologist receives NSF grant to study how brain processes sound

LA JOLLA—Salk Associate Professor Tatyana Sharpee has been awarded a grant of approximately $950,000 over 4 years by the National Science Foundation to study how the brain processes complex sounds. This grant is part of a multi-national project together with groups in France and Israel.


Salk neuroscientist receives new NSF award to model the brain

LA JOLLA—As part of the National Science Foundation’s funding for new multidisciplinary approaches to neuroscience, Salk Professor Terrence Sejnowski together with the California Institute of Technology will receive over $1 million over 3 years to pursue advanced modeling of the brain.


Salk teams part of new effort to advance understanding of brain structure

LA JOLLA—Two Salk neuroscience labs are part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) effort to better understand the brain. Salk Professors Terrence Sejnowski and Ed Callaway are each collaborators in multi-institute projects awarded over $9 million apiece.


Brain’s immune cells linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia

LA JOLLA—Scientists have, for the first time, characterized the molecular markers that make the brain’s front lines of immune defense—cells called microglia—unique. In the process, they discovered further evidence that microglia may play roles in a variety of neurodegenerative and psychiatric illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases as well as schizophrenia, autism and depression.


New method predicts who will respond to lithium therapy

LA JOLLA—For roughly one-third of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, lithium is a miracle drug, effectively treating both their mania and depression. But once someone is diagnosed, it can take up to a year to learn whether that person will be among the 30 percent who respond to lithium or the 70 percent who do not.


Hard choices? Ask your brain’s dopamine

LA JOLLA—Say you’re reaching for the fruit cup at a buffet, but at the last second you switch gears and grab a cupcake instead. Emotionally, your decision is a complex stew of guilt and mouth-watering anticipation. But physically it’s a simple shift: instead of moving left, your hand went right. Such split-second changes interest neuroscientists because they play a major role in diseases that involve problems with selecting an action, like Parkinson’s and drug addiction.


Your brain’s got rhythm

LA JOLLA—Not everyone is Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson, but even those of us who seem to have two left feet have got rhythm—in our brains. From breathing to walking to chewing, our days are filled with repetitive actions that depend on the rhythmic firing of neurons. Yet the neural circuitry underpinning such seemingly ordinary behaviors is not fully understood, even though better insights could lead to new therapies for disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS and autism.


The Internet and your brain are more alike than you think

LA JOLLA—Although we spend a lot of our time online nowadays—streaming music and video, checking email and social media, or obsessively reading the news—few of us know about the mathematical algorithms that manage how our content is delivered. But deciding how to route information fairly and efficiently through a distributed system with no central authority was a priority for the Internet’s founders. Now, a Salk Institute discovery shows that an algorithm used for the Internet is also at work in the human brain, an insight that improves our understanding of engineered and neural networks and potentially even learning disabilities.


Worms have teenage ambivalence, too

LA JOLLA—Anyone who has allowed a child to “help” with a project quickly learns that kids, no matter how intelligent or eager, are less competent than adults. Teenagers are more capable—but, as every parent knows, teens can be erratic and unreliable. And it’s not just in humans; obvious differences in behavior and ability between juveniles and adults are seen across the animal kingdom.


Building a better brain

LA JOLLA—When you build models, whether ships or cars, you want them to be as much like the real deal as possible. This quality is even more crucial for building model organs, because disease treatments developed from these models have to be safe and effective for humans. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute have studied a 3D “mini-brain” grown from human stem cells and found it to be structurally and functionally more similar to real brains than the 2D models in widespread use. The discovery, appearing in the December 20, 2016, issue of Cell Reports, indicates that the new model could better help scientists understand brain development as well as neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia.


New gene-editing technology partially restores vision in blind animals

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute researchers have discovered a holy grail of gene editing—the ability to, for the first time, insert DNA at a target location into the non-dividing cells that make up the majority of adult organs and tissues. The technique, which the team showed was able to partially restore visual responses in blind rodents, will open new avenues for basic research and a variety of treatments, such as for retinal, heart and neurological diseases.


“Princess Leia” brainwaves help sleeping brain store memories

LA JOLLA—Every night while you sleep, electrical waves of brain activity circle around each side of your brain, tracing a pattern that, were it on the surface of your head, might look like the twin hair buns of Star Wars’ Princess Leia. The Salk Institute scientists who discovered these circular “Princess Leia” oscillations, which are described in the journal eLife, think the waves are responsible each night for forming associations between different aspects of a day’s memories.


Salk neuroscientist granted $1 million to harness sound to control brain cells

LA JOLLA—Salk Associate Professor Sreekanth Chalasani has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative for developing a way to selectively activate brain, heart, muscle and other cells using ultrasonic waves, which could be a boon to neuroscience research as well as medicine.


The brain’s stunning genomic diversity revealed

LA JOLLA—Our brains contain a surprising diversity of DNA. Even though we are taught that every cell in our body has the same DNA, in fact most cells in the brain have changes to their DNA that make each neuron a little different.


Johns Hopkins and Salk co-lead $15 million initiative to unravel bipolar disorder and schizophrenia

LA JOLLA—The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will co-lead a $15.4 million effort to develop new systems for quickly screening libraries of drugs for potential effectiveness against schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has announced. The consortium, which includes four academic or nonprofit institutions and two industry partners, will be led by Hongjun Song, PhD, of Johns Hopkins and Rusty Gage, PhD, of Salk.


Neurodevelopmental model of Williams Syndrome offers insight into human social brain

LA JOLLA—In a study spanning molecular genetics, stem cells and the sciences of both brain and behavior, researchers at University of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute have created a neurodevelopmental model of a rare genetic disorder that may provide new insights into the underlying neurobiology of the human social brain.


When it comes to recognizing shapes, timing is everything

LA JOLLA—Visual prosthetics, or bionic eyes, are soon becoming a reality, as researchers make strides in strategies to reactivate parts of the brain that process visual information in people affected by blindness.


Power up: growing neurons undergo major metabolic shift

LA JOLLA—Our brains can survive only for a few minutes without oxygen. Salk Institute researchers have now identified the timing of a dramatic metabolic shift in developing neurons, which makes them become dependent on oxygen as a source of energy.


New neurons reveal clues about an individual’s autism

LA JOLLA—The brains of some people with autism spectrum disorder grow faster than usual early on in life, often before diagnosis. A new study co-led by Salk Institute scientists has employed a cutting-edge stem cell technique to unravel the mechanisms driving the mysterious phenomenon of excess brain growth, which affects as many as 30 percent of people with autism.


Small molecule keeps new adult neurons from straying, may be tied to schizophrenia

LA JOLLA—A small stretch of ribonucleic acid called microRNA could make the difference between a healthy adult brain and one that’s prone to disorders including schizophrenia.


Cannabinoids remove plaque-forming Alzheimer’s proteins from brain cells

LA JOLLA–Salk Institute scientists have found preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.


Adult brain prunes branched connections of new neurons

LA JOLLA—When tweaking its architecture, the adult brain works like a sculptor—starting with more than it needs so it can carve away the excess to achieve the perfect design. That’s the conclusion of a new study that tracked developing cells in an adult mouse brain in real time.


Tiny microscopes reveal hidden role of nervous system cells

LA JOLLA—A microscope about the size of a penny is giving scientists a new window into the everyday activity of cells within the spinal cord. The innovative technology revealed that astrocytes—cells in the nervous system that do not conduct electrical signals and were traditionally viewed as merely supportive—unexpectedly react to intense sensation.


Tamping down neurons’ energy use could treat neurodegeneration

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists showed how an FDA-approved drug boosts the health of brain cells by limiting their energy use. Like removing unnecessary lighting from a financially strapped household to save on electricity bills, the drug—called rapamycin—prolongs the survival of diseased neurons by forcing them to reduce protein production to conserve cellular energy.


Improved brain mapping tool 20 times more powerful than previous version

LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists have developed a new reagent to map the brain’s complex network of connections that is 20 times more efficient than their previous version. This tool improves upon a technique called rabies virus tracing, which was originally developed in the Callaway lab at Salk and is commonly used to map neural connections.


Brain guardians remove dying neurons

LA JOLLA—By adolescence, your brain already contains most of the neurons that you’ll have for the rest of your life. But a few regions continue to grow new nerve cells—and require the services of cellular sentinels, specialized immune cells that keep the brain safe by getting rid of dead or dysfunctional cells.


Salk professor Rusty Gage elected to the National Academy of Sciences Governing Council

LA JOLLA—Distinguished Salk Institute Professor Rusty Gage is one of four new members to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Governing Council. Gage is a professor in Salk’s Laboratory of Genetics and holds the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease.


Same gene dictates size of two sensory brain areas

LA JOLLA—When you stare in puzzlement at an optical illusion, two distinct parts of the neocortex in your brain are hard at work: the primary visual cortex is receiving information on what your eyes see, and the surrounding higher order visual areas are trying to interpret that tricky amalgam of information. These two areas, though, are linked in more ways than just function—the same gene controls the size of each area, Salk researchers led by Dennis O’Leary have now discovered.


Memory capacity of brain is 10 times more than previously thought

LA JOLLA—Salk researchers and collaborators have achieved critical insight into the size of neural connections, putting the memory capacity of the brain far higher than common estimates. The new work also answers a longstanding question as to how the brain is so energy efficient and could help engineers build computers that are incredibly powerful but also conserve energy.


Autism-linked protein lays groundwork for healthy brain

LA JOLLA—A gene linked to mental disorders helps lays the foundation for a crucial brain structure during prenatal development, according to Salk Institute research published January 14, 2016 in Cell Reports.


Loss of tiny genetic molecules could play role in neurodegenerative diseases

LA JOLLA—A tiny sliver of a person’s DNA—several thousand times smaller than a typical gene—produces a molecule that has crucial influence over whether a person has any control over their muscles, according to a paper published December 18, 2015 in the journal Science.


Salk scientists discover the function and connections of three cell types in the brain

LA JOLLA—How the brain functions is still a black box: scientists aren’t even sure how many kinds of nerve cells exist in the brain. To know how the brain works, they need to know not only what types of nerve cells exist, but also how they work together. Researchers at the Salk Institute have gotten one step closer to unlocking this black box.


Salk scientists make serotonin-transmitting neurons in a dish

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute have taken human skin cells and turned them into neurons that signal to one another using serotonin, a brain chemical that is crucial to our mental well-being.


To scratch an itch is a hairy problem

LA JOLLA–An insect lands on your arm, moving the tiny hairs on your skin just enough to make you want to scratch. Salk Institute researchers have uncovered evidence of a dedicated neural pathway that transmits the itchy feeling triggered by such a light touch.


Bipolar patients’ brain cells predict response to lithium

LA JOLLA–The brain cells of patients with bipolar disorder, characterized by severe swings between depression and elation, are more sensitive to stimuli than other people’s brain cells, researchers have discovered.


Terrence Sejnowski receives Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience

LA JOLLA–The Society for Neuroscience (SfN), an organization of nearly 40,000 scientists and clinicians, will award the Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience to Terrence Sejnowski, Salk professor and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory.


Researchers learn how to grow old brain cells

LA JOLLA–For the first time, scientists can use skin samples from older patients to create brain cells without rolling back the youthfulness clock in the cells first. The new technique, which yields cells resembling those found in older people’s brains, will be a boon to scientists studying age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.


Receptors in brain linked to schizophrenia, autism

LA JOLLA–The loss of a critical receptor in a special class of inhibitory neurons in the
brain may be responsible for neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and schizophrenia, according to new research by Salk scientists.


Brain-based algorithms make for better networks

LA JOLLA–When it comes to developing efficient, robust networks, the brain may often know best.
Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Carnegie Mellon University have, for the first time, determined the rate at which the developing brain eliminates unneeded connections between neurons during early childhood.


Rusty Gage receives Allen Distinguished Investigator Award to reveal biology of Alzheimer’s disease

LA JOLLA–The Salk Institute today announced that Rusty Gage, Salk professor in the Laboratory of Genetics, has been selected as one of five recipients of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s Allen Distinguished Investigator (ADI) program and will be awarded $1.5 million to conduct his research. These researchers have projects aimed at uncovering the elusive biological foundations of Alzheimer’s disease. The projects are funded at a total of $7 million over three years.


Salk Institute scientist Nicola Allen named Pew Scholar

LA JOLLA–The Pew Charitable Trusts announced today that Salk Institute scientist Nicola Allen, an assistant professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, is one of 22 researchers to be named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. Allen joins the ranks of more than 600 outstanding scientists who have been selected as Pew scholars in the 30 years since the program’s inception.


Low glycemic index diet reduces symptoms of autism in mice

LA JOLLA–Bread, cereal and other sugary processed foods cause rapid spikes and subsequent crashes in blood sugar. In contrast, diets made up of vegetables, fruits and whole grains are healthier, in part because they take longer to digest and keep us more even-keeled.


Brain cells capable of “early-career” switch

LA JOLLA–Scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered that the role of neurons–which are responsible for specific tasks in the brain–is much more flexible than previously believed.


Salk scientists Joseph Ecker and Dennis O’Leary elected to American Academy of Arts & Sciences

LA JOLLA–Salk Institute Professors Joseph Ecker and Dennis O’Leary have received the prestigious honor of being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) class of 2015. One of the nation’s most prominent honorary societies, AAAS are among the 197 accomplished leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts accepted to this year’s class. Its members include winners of the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize; MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships; and Grammy, Emmy, Oscar and Tony Awards.


How the brain balances risk-taking and learning

LA JOLLA–If you had 10 chances to roll a die, would you rather be guaranteed to receive $5 for every roll ($50 total) or take the risk of winning $100 if you only roll a six?


Walking on ice takes more than brains

LA JOLLA–Walking across an icy parking lot in winter–and remaining upright–takes intense concentration. But a new discovery suggests that much of the balancing act that our bodies perform when faced with such a task happens unconsciously, thanks to a cluster of neurons in our spinal cord that function as a “mini-brain” to integrate sensory information and make the necessary adjustments to our muscles so that we don’t slip and fall.


Worms’ mental GPS helps them find food

LA JOLLA–You’ve misplaced your cell phone. You start by scanning where you remember leaving it: on your bureau. You check and double-check the bureau before expanding your search around and below the bureau. Eventually, you switch from this local area to a more global one, widening your search to the rest of your room and beyond.


Salk and Harvard scientists chart spinal circuitry responsible for chronic pain

LA JOLLA–Pain typically has a clear cause–but not always. When a person touches something hot or bumps into a sharp object, it’s no surprise that it hurts. But for people with certain chronic pain disorders, including fibromyalgia and phantom limb pain, a gentle caress can result in agony.


Salk scientists receive $3 million for BRAIN Initiative grant

LA JOLLA—Joseph Ecker, a Salk professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and Margarita Behrens, Salk staff scientist, have been named recipients in the 2014 round of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative for leading-edge work in neuroscience. The grant, announced September 30, provides more than $3 million in funding to the Salk scientists over three years.


Salk neuroscientist Charles Stevens receives NSF grant under BRAIN Initiative

LA JOLLA–Charles Stevens, a professor in the Salk Institute’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, will receive one of 36 Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) from the National Science Foundation to further research on how complex behaviors emerge from the activity of the brain.


Stephen F. Heinemann, pioneering Salk neuroscientist, dies at 75

Stephen F. Heinemann, whose pioneering research on neurotransmitter receptors in the brain helped lay the groundwork for understanding diseases of the brain, died August 6 of complications of kidney failure at Vibra Hospital in San Diego, California. He was 75.


Salk scientists uncover new clues to repairing an injured spinal cord

LA JOLLA—Frogs, dogs, whales, snails can all do it, but humans and primates can’t. Regrow nerves after an injury, that is—while many animals have this ability, humans don’t. But new research from the Salk Institute suggests that a small molecule may be able to convince damaged nerves to grow and effectively rewire circuits. Such a feat could eventually lead to therapies for the thousands of Americans with severe spinal cord injuries and paralysis.


Analysis of African plant reveals possible treatment for aging brain

LA JOLLA—For hundreds of years, healers in São Tomé e Príncipe—an island off the western coast of Africa—have prescribed cata-manginga leaves and bark to their patients. These pickings from the Voacanga africana tree are said to decrease inflammation and ease the symptoms of mental disorders.


Memory relies on astrocytes, the brain’s lesser-known cells

LA JOLLA—When you’re expecting something—like the meal you’ve ordered at a restaurant—or when or when something captures your interest, unique electrical rhythms sweep through your brain.


Salk Institute welcomes four new faculty

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute is pleased to welcome a new full professor and three new assistant professors, all exceptional leaders in their respective fields. The new faculty will facilitate innovative and collaborative breakthroughs in understanding human health and disease.


Salk’s Glenn Center for Aging Research receives an additional $3 million gift from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has received a $3 million gift from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research to allow the Institute to continue conducting research to understand the biology of normal human aging and age-related diseases.


New stem cell research points to early indicators of schizophrenia

LA JOLLA—Using new stem cell technology, scientists at the Salk Institute have shown that neurons generated from the skin cells of people with schizophrenia behave strangely in early developmental stages, providing a hint as to ways to detect and potentially treat the disease early.


Salk scientists reveal circuitry of fundamental motor circuit

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered the developmental source for a key type of neuron that allows animals to walk, a finding that could help pave the way for new therapies for spinal cord injuries or other motor impairments related to disease.


Scientists identify new cause of brain bleeding immediately after stroke

LA JOLLA—By discovering a new mechanism that allows blood to enter the brain immediately after stroke, researchers from the Salk Institute and University of California (UC) Irvine reveal a possible means to create new therapies that may reduce or prevent stroke-induced damage in the brain.


Scientists explain how memories stick together

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute have created a new model of memory that explains how neurons retain select memories a few hours after an event.


Scientists reveal potential link between brain development and breast cancer gene

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute have uncovered details into a surprising—and crucial—link between brain development and a gene whose mutation is tied to breast and ovarian cancer. Aside from better understanding neurological damage associated in a small percentage of people susceptible to breast cancers, the new work also helps to better understand the evolution of the brain.


Natural plant compound prevents Alzheimer’s disease in mice

LA JOLLA—A chemical that’s found in fruits and vegetables from strawberries to cucumbers appears to stop memory loss that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease in mice, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have discovered. In experiments on mice that normally develop Alzheimer’s symptoms less than a year after birth, a daily dose of the compound—a flavonol called fisetin—prevented the progressive memory and learning impairments. The drug, however, did not alter the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain, accumulations of proteins which are commonly blamed for Alzheimer’s disease. The new finding suggests a way to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms independently of targeting amyloid plaques.


Salk scientist Fred Gage named to National Academy of Inventors

LA JOLLA—Fred H. Gage, professor in the Salk Institute’s Laboratory of Genetics and holder of the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease, has been elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).


Study connects dots between genes and human behavior

LA JOLLA, CA—Establishing links between genes, the brain and human behavior is a central issue in cognitive neuroscience research, but studying how genes influence cognitive abilities and behavior as the brain develops from childhood to adulthood has proven difficult.


Study finds a patchwork of genetic variation in the brain

LA JOLLA, CA—It was once thought that each cell in a person’s body possesses the same DNA code and that the particular way the genome is read imparts cell function and defines the individual. For many cell types in our bodies, however, that is an oversimplification. Studies of neuronal genomes published in the past decade have turned up extra or missing chromosomes, or pieces of DNA that can copy and paste themselves throughout the genomes.


Salk scientists expand the genetic code of mammals to control protein activity in neurons with light

LA JOLLA, CA—With the flick of a light switch, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies can change the shape of a protein in the brain of a mouse, turning on the protein at the precise moment they want. This allows the scientists to observe the exact effect of the protein’s activation. The new method, described in the Oct. 16, 2013, issue of the journal Neuron, relies on specially engineered amino acids—the molecules that make up proteins—and light from an LED. Now that it has been shown to work, the technique can be adapted to give researchers control of a wide variety of other proteins in the brain to study their functions.


Innovative research earns Salk scientist EUREKA award

LA JOLLA, CA—The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected Axel Nimmerjahn for a highly competitive EUREKA (Exceptional Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) grant. Nimmerjahn is an Assistant Professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center and holds the Richard Allan Barry Developmental Chair. The award, in the amount of $1.38M over four years, will support Nimmerjahn’s goal of better understanding the relationship between spinal cord physiology and brain activity and behavior. Data from this research should foster development of new treatment and rehabilitation strategies for spinal cord injury, tumors, infections, and neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and spinal muscular dystrophy.


Insulin plays a role in mediating worms’ perceptions and behaviors

LA JOLLA,CA—In the past few years, as imaging tools and techniques have improved, scientists have been working tirelessly to build a detailed map of neural connections in the human brain—with the ultimate hope of understanding how the mind works.


Salk Scientist Tatyana Sharpee receives CAREER award from NSF

LA JOLLA, CA—Salk scientist Tatyana Sharpee has received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund upcoming research in her lab. The CAREER award supports faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.


Salk scientists and colleagues discover important mechanism underlying Alzheimer’s disease

LA JOLLA, CA—Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 26 million people worldwide. It is predicted to skyrocket as boomers age—nearly 106 million people are projected to have the disease by 2050. Fortunately, scientists are making progress towards therapies. A collaboration among several research entities, including the Salk Institute and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, has defined a key mechanism behind the disease’s progress, giving hope that a newly modified Alzheimer’s drug will be effective.


Salk researchers develop new model to study schizophrenia and other neurological conditions

LA JOLLA, CA—Schizophrenia is one of the most devastating neurological conditions, with only 30 percent of sufferers ever experiencing full recovery. While current medications can control most psychotic symptoms, their side effects can leave individuals so severely impaired that the disease ranks among the top ten causes of disability in developed countries.


Drug blocks light sensors in eye that may trigger migraine attacks

LA JOLLA, CA—For many migraine sufferers, bright lights are a surefire way to exacerbate their headaches. And for some night-shift workers, just a stroll through a brightly lit parking lot during the morning commute home can be enough to throw off their body’s daily rhythms and make daytime sleep nearly impossible. But a new molecule that selectively blocks specialized light-sensitive receptors in the eyes could help both these groups of people, without affecting normal vision according to a study published August 25, 2013 in Nature Chemical Biology.


Salk scientist discovers novel mechanism in spinal cord injury

LA JOLLA, CA—More than 11,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries each year, and since over a quarter of those injuries are due to falls, the number is likely to rise as the population ages. The reason so many of those injuries are permanently disabling is that the human body lacks the capacity to regenerate nerve fibers. The best our bodies can do is route the surviving tissue around the injury site.


Novel ‘top-down’ mechanism repatterns developing brain regions

LA JOLLA,CA—Dennis O’Leary of the Salk Institute was the first scientist to show that the basic functional architecture of the cortex, the largest part of the human brain, was genetically determined during development. But as it so often does in science, answering one question opened up many others. O’Leary wondered what if the layout of the cortex wasn’t fixed? What would happen if it were changed?


Unique epigenomic code identified during human brain development

LA JOLLA,CA—Changes in the epigenome, including chemical modifications of DNA, can act as an extra layer of information in the genome, and are thought to play a role in learning and memory, as well as in age-related cognitive decline. The results of a new study by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies show that the landscape of DNA methylation, a particular type of epigenomic modification, is highly dynamic in brain cells during the transition from birth to adulthood, helping to understand how information in the genomes of cells in the brain is controlled from fetal development to adulthood. The brain is much more complex than all other organs in the body and this discovery opens the door to a deeper understanding of how the intricate patterns of connectivity in the brain are formed.


Scientists help explain visual system’s remarkable ability to recognize complex objects

LA JOLLA, CA—How is it possible for a human eye to figure out letters that are twisted and looped in crazy directions, like those in the little security test internet users are often given on websites?


High-resolution mapping technique uncovers underlying circuit architecture of the brain

LA JOLLA, CA—The power of the brain lies in its trillions of intercellular connections, called synapses that together form complex neural “networks.” While neuroscientists have long sought to map these individual connections to see how they influence specific brain functions, traditional techniques have been unsuccessful. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute and the Gladstone Institutes, using an innovative brain- tracing technique, have found a way to untangle these networks. These findings offer new insight into how specific brain regions connect to each other, while also revealing clues as to what may happen, neuron by neuron, when these connections are disrupted.


Salk scientists discover previously unknown requirement for brain development

LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have demonstrated that sensory regions in the brain develop in a fundamentally different way than previously thought, a finding that may yield new insights into visual and neural disorders.


Three Salk faculty awarded endowed chairs

LA JOLLA, CA—Salk scientists Beverly M. Emerson, Christopher R. Kintner, and Paul E. Sawchenko were selected as inaugural holders of new endowed chairs created through the Joan Klein Jacobs and Irwin Mark Jacobs Senior Scientist Endowed Chair Challenge. In 2008, Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs created a challenge grant to establish endowed chairs for senior scientists. For every $2 million that a donor contributes toward an endowed chair at the Institute, the Jacobses will add $1 million to achieve the $3 million funding level required to fully endow a chair for a Salk senior scientist. To date, 17 out of 20 chairs have been established.


Salk scientists develop drug that slows Alzheimer’s in mice

LA JOLLA, CA—A drug developed by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, known as J147, reverses memory deficits and slows Alzheimer’s disease in aged mice following short-term treatment. The findings, published May 14 in the journal Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, may pave the way to a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease in humans.


Salk scientist Terrence Sejnowski elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

LA JOLLA, CA—Salk researcher Terrence J. Sejnowski,
professor and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a distinction awarded annually to global leaders in business, government, public affairs, the arts and popular culture as well as biomedical research.


Salk Institute promotes three top scientists

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce the promotions of faculty members, John Reynolds to the rank of full professor and Clodagh O’Shea and Tatyana Sharpee to associate professors based on recommendations by the Salk faculty and non-resident fellows, and approved by President William R. Brody and the Institute’s Board of Trustees.


Despite what you may think, your brain is a mathematical genius

LA JOLLA, CA—The irony of getting away to a remote place is you usually have to fight traffic to get there. After hours of dodging dangerous drivers, you finally arrive at that quiet mountain retreat, stare at the gentle waters of a pristine lake, and congratulate your tired self on having “turned off your brain.”


Salk applauds Obama’s ambitious BRAIN Initiative to research human mind

LA JOLLA, CA—Salk neuroscientist Terrence J. Sejnowski joined President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., on April 2, 2013, at the launch of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—a major Administration neuroscience effort that advances and builds upon collaborative scientific work by leading brain researchers such as Salk’s own Sejnowski.


American Association for Cancer Research appoints Salk scientists to inaugural class of fellows

LA JOLLA, CA—The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to accelerating scientific progress to prevent and cure cancer, has selected four Salk scientists and two of the Institute’s non-resident fellows to be inducted in its first class of the fellows of the AACR Academy.


The neuroscience of finding your lost keys

LA JOLLA, CA—Ever find yourself racking your brain on a Monday morning to remember where you put your car keys?


Salk Institute awarded historic $42 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute for Biological Studies has received a $42 million gift-the largest in the Institute’s history-to establish the Helmsley Center for Genomic Medicine (HCGM), a research center dedicated to decoding the common genetic factors underlying many complex chronic human diseases.


Salk faculty members honored as recipients of new endowed chairs

LA JOLLA,CA—The Salk Institute announced today that professors Edward M. Callaway and Joseph Noel have been appointed to endowed chairs in acknowledgment of their outstanding contributions and dedication to scientific research.


Thomas D. Albright named president of Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture

LA JOLLA, CA—The first architecture critic may have been Goldilocks. She complained that some things were too big and some too small, while others were “just right.” Yet how do architects determine what is just right? And why do we feel instantly at home in some spaces, while never feeling right in others?


Salk study finds diabetes raises levels of proteins linked to Alzheimer’s features

LA JOLLA, CA—Growing evidence suggests that there may be a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, but the physiological mechanisms by which diabetes impacts brain function and cognition are not fully understood. In a new study published in Aging Cell, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies show, for the first time, that diabetes enhances the development of aging features that may underlie early pathological events in Alzheimer’s.


Aggressive brain tumors can originate from a range of nervous system cells

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have long believed that glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive type of primary brain tumor, begins in glial cells that make up supportive tissue in the brain or in neural stem cells. In a paper published October 18 in Science, however, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found that the tumors can originate from other types of differentiated cells in the nervous system, including cortical neurons.


Salk scientists pinpoint key player in Parkinson’s disease neuron loss

LA JOLLA, CA—By reprogramming skin cells from Parkinson’s disease patients with a known genetic mutation, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified damage to neural stem cells as a powerful player in the disease. The findings, reported online October 17, 2013 in Nature, may lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.


A rare feat: Two scientists at Salk score NIH New Innovator awards

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute announced today that researchers Björn Lillemeier, and Axel Nimmerjahn, have been named recipients of the prestigious 2012 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award.


Salk professors awarded chair appointments

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce that professors E.J. Chichilnisky, Jan Karlseder, and Kuo-Fen Lee have each been selected as the recipient of an endowed chair to honor their consistent scientific excellence and support their biological research.


Salk scientists discover molecular link between circadian clock disturbances and inflammatory diseases

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have known for some time that throwing off the body’s circadian rhythm can negatively affect body chemistry. In fact, workers whose sleep-wake cycles are disrupted by night shifts are more susceptible to chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.


Salk professor Terrence Sejnowski receives IEEE Frank Rosenblatt Award

LA JOLLA, CA—The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity, has awarded Terrence Sejnowski, professor and head of the Salk Institute’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, the 2013 IEEE Frank Rosenblatt Award.


Neurons derived from cord blood cells may represent new therapeutic option

LA JOLLA, CA—For more than 20 years, doctors have been using cells from blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after childbirth to treat a variety of illnesses, from cancer and immune disorders to blood and metabolic diseases.


“Trust” hormone oxytocin found at heart of rare genetic disorder

LA JOLLA, CA—The hormone oxytocin—often referred to as the “trust” hormone or “love hormone” for its role in stimulating emotional responses—plays an important role in Williams syndrome (WS), according to a study published June 12, 2012, in PLoS ONE.


Ferring Pharmaceuticals donates $10 million to the Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Saint Prex, Switzerland—Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a global, specialty biopharmaceuticals company, has donated $10 million to support research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. In addition to funding the highest scientific priorities at the Salk, the Ferring gift will enable the creation of the Françoise Gilot-Salk endowed Chair, which will be used to support research on the role that TAM receptors play in immune regulation. These receptors, which were discovered in Professor Greg Lemke‘s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, are central inhibitors of the innate immune response to bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. The Ferring gift will also continue the endowment of the Frederik Paulsen Chair in Neurosciences, named after Ferring’s founder and first established in 2000.


Salk scientist elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences

LA JOLLA, CA—Salk researcher Edward M. Callaway, a professor in the Systems Neurobiology Laboratories has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Callaway shares the honor with some of the world’s most accomplished leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities, and the arts.


Salk scientists redraw the blueprint of the body’s biological clock

LA JOLLA, CA—The discovery of a major gear in the biological clock that tells the body when to sleep and metabolize food may lead to new drugs to treat sleep problems and metabolic disorders, including diabetes.


Prestigious endowed chairs awarded to Salk scientists

The Salk Institute is pleased to announce that faculty members Geoffrey M. Wahl and Martyn Goulding were celebrated as the recipients of endowed chairs in recognition of their significant scientific accomplishments at a special reception on March 29. Joseph Ecker, professor in Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, who was named holder of the International Council Chair in Genetics in September 2011, was also honored at the ceremony.


Discovery of brain’s natural resistance to drugs may offer clues to treating addiction

LA JOLLA, CA—A single injection of cocaine or methamphetamine in mice caused their brains to put the brakes on neurons that generate sensations of pleasure, and these cellular changes lasted for at least a week, according to research by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


Complex wiring of the nervous system may rely on just a handful of genes and proteins

LA JOLLA, CA—Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a startling feature of early brain development that helps to explain how complex neuron wiring patterns are programmed using just a handful of critical genes. The findings, published in Cell, may help scientists develop new therapies for neurological disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and provide insight into certain cancers.


Discovery of extremely long-lived proteins may provide insight into cell aging and neurodegenerative diseases

LA JOLLA, CA—One of the big mysteries in biology is why cells age. Now scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies report that they have discovered a weakness in a component of brain cells that may explain how the aging process occurs in the brain.


Salk researcher named Damon Runyon Fellow

LA JOLLA, CA—Lora B. Sweeney, a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has been named a Damon Runyon Fellow.


Wylie Vale, Salk scientist, pioneer and leader, dies at 70

LA JOLLA, CA—Dr. Wylie Vale, a Salk Institute professor and world-renowned expert on brain hormones, died January 3 while on vacation in Hana, Hawaii. He was 70 years old.


Salk scientists map the frontiers of vision

LA JOLLA, CA—There’s a 3-D world in our brains. It’s a landscape that mimics the outside world, where the objects we see exist as collections of neural circuits and electrical impulses.


Salk discovery may lead to safer treatments for asthma, allergies and arthritis

LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have discovered a missing link between the body’s biological clock and sugar metabolism system, a finding that may help avoid the serious side effects of drugs used for treating asthma, allergies and arthritis.


Alzheimer’s drug candidate may be first to prevent disease progression

LA JOLLA, CA—A new drug candidate may be the first capable of halting the devastating mental decline of Alzheimer’s disease, based on the findings of a study published in PLoS ONE.


Salk scientists receive significant philanthropic support with five distinguished chair appointments

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce the appointment of five faculty members to be recipients of endowed chairs established by philanthropic leaders in support of scientific research.