Theresa Harrison

BRI member leads study identifying brain cells that help people learn by watching others

Dr. Itzhak Fried, professor of neurosurgery and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine and Semel Institute of Neuroscience and Human Behavior, is senior author of a study that has pinpointed the individual neurons in the brain that support observational learning. 

This form of learning, from infancy onward, helps us predict outcomes and make decisions in the future. "Observational learning is the cornerstone of our ability to change behavior," Dr. Fried said, "[because] it's human nature to want to learn from other people's mistakes rather than commit your own."

The study, co-authored with researchers at CalTech, was published in the September 6th edition of Nature Communications, and could provide scientists with deeper insights into the way the brain malfunctions in conditions such as learning disorders.

Full details here.



June Image of the Month

Image of the Month

"The Heart's Brain." A single cluster of autonomic neurons which reside on the dorsal surface of the heart. Cardiac ganglia like this form a neural network on the heart and are vital to its communication with the central nervous system. 

Image by John D. Tompkins, PhD.




Project Synapse Flyer



Melissa Malvaez, PhD, from the laboratory of Dr. Kate Wassum, Department of Psychology, UCLA. 

Title: Releasing the brakes on habit memory
Abstract: Optimal behavior and decision making result from a balance of control between two systems, one cognitive and one habitual. These systems rely on the dorsomedial (DMS) and dorsolateral (DLS) striatum, respectively. But almost nothing is known about the molecular mechanisms required to establish and transition between each behavioral control system. We examined the role of one epigenetic mechanism, histone modification via histone deacetylases (HDACs), in this process. We found HDAC inhibition immediately following instrumental (lever press → reward) training increased histone acetylation throughout the dorsal striatum, altered transcription of key plasticity genes, and preferentially accelerated habit formation. Decreasing HDAC3 function, either by selective pharmacological inhibition or expression of a dominant-negative HDAC3, in either the DMS or DLS also potentiated habit formation, while HDAC3 overexpression in either region prevented habit formation. These data identify a critical molecular substrate of the transition to habit, demonstrating HDAC3 to be a vital negative regulator.

Host: Tom O'Dell, PhD.

November 1st, 12:00pm, Neuroscience Research Building Auditorium

Special reception to follow. 

Named for Dr. Arnold Scheibel, the BRI's director from 1987 -- 1995, this annual lecture recognises a postdoctoral fellow who has achieved outstanding research accomplishments in neuroscience. 


In the News Image

The BRI Knaub Fellowship in Multiple Sclerosis Research:
Call for Proposals 

The Knaub Unitrust, established by Richard and Suzanne Knaub, has donated a sizable gift to the BRI in support of Multiple Sclerosis research at UCLA. 

This gift will be used to endow an annual program to name and support Postdoctoral or Predoctoral Fellows pursuing relevant projects, and who exemplify trainee excellence, innovation, and a multidisciplinary approach to MS research. 

"We want to express our sincere gratitude to the Knaub family for this generous gift which will enable young researchers to contribute to translational research related to understanding and treating MS," said BRI Director Christopher Evans.

Knaub Fellow proposals must be submitted by midnight, Monday November 7th, 2016. Proposal details are here.



The Neuroscience Interdepartmental Program


Graduate Program

Undergraduate Program

Upcoming Events


Tuesday, October 25th, 2016
12:00 Noon

Dr. Gary Aston-Jones, Ph.D.
Director, Brain Health Institute

Murray and Charlotte Strongwater Endowed Chair in
Neuroscience and Brain Health,
Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ

Title: "Unraveling brain circuits for drug seeking and demand"

Dr. Aston-Jones’ research focuses on the modulation of reward behavior, addiction and cognitive functions by ascending brain monoamine and peptide systems, and uses neurophysiology, neuroanatomy and behavioral neuropharmacology in animal models. He has conducted seminal studies into brain systems that contribute to disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, addiction, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Dr. Aston-Jones and colleagues have recently described a role for the brain noradrenergic locus coeruleus system in decision and behavioral flexibility, as well as a key role for the neuropeptides orexin/hypocretins in reward processing and addiction.

Hosted by: H. Tad Blair Ph.D.

Neuroscience Research Building
1st Floor Auditorium





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