University of Rochester

Ernie Nordeen

Research Overview

Throughout life, neural systems adapt in response to change. In fact, this neural flexibility is essential for maintaining behavioral stability. For instance, motor systems adapt when feedback from an animal's actions fails to produce the expected outcome. Neural signals reporting the disagreement between actual and expected feedback promote such adaptive behavioral change by prompting a functional re-mapping that can range from simple modifications in the gain of synaptic connections, to wholesale rewiring of well-mapped connections.

Our lab studies how adaptive plasticity occurs within a vocal motor system when feedback from an animal's vocalizations fails to match learned sensory-motor representations. In songbirds, as in humans, the stable production of learned vocalizations depends on normal auditory feedback. Altering or eliminating such feedback in adults produces gradual and long lasting changes in vocal performance. We study the neural processes that drive these feedback-based changes in vocal behavior, focusing on striatal-thalamic-cortical circuits that have been implicated in evaluating and adjusting learned motor behavior. The studies combine behavioral, neuroanatomical, and cellular analyses to identify brain regions and synaptic processes that promote adaptive changes in vocal motor behavior.

Selected Publications

Research Collaborators

Eliot A. Brenowitz, Professor, Depts Psychology and Biology, U. Washington
Steven A. Goldman, Professor, Dept Neurosurgery, U. Rochester
Kathy Nordeen, Professor, Dept Brain & Cognitive Sciences, U. Rochester

Research Support

My research has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the Schmitt Program for Integrative Neuroscience.

Courses

BCS 240: Basic Neurobiology

BCS/NSC 249: Developmental Neurobiology

Current Students & Research Associates

Aadavai Sridharan

Dr. David Holtzman

Former Graduate Students and Postdocs

Dr. Farida Sohrabji, Assoc. Professor, Texas A&M

Dr. Sandra Aamodt, Senior Editor, Nature Neuroscience

Dr. Michael Burek, Merck Pharmeceuticals

Dr. Mark Basham, Asst Professor, Metropolitan State College of Denver

Dr. Bonnie Ward, Post-doc, Wellesley College

Dr. Luisa Scott, Post-doc, U. of Texas, Austin

Dr. Julie Heinrich, Post-doc, U. Notre Dame

Marla Bruns (Master's student), MD/PhD program, Syracuse U.

Dr. Tryambak Singh (Postdoc), Assoc. Professor, Baranas Hindu U.