University of Rochester

Kathy W. Nordeen

Research Overview

One of the most important functions of the nervous system is to store information and produce adaptive behaviors that reflect prior experience. To uncover circuits and cellular mechanisms that can foster rapid and accurate learning, we use molecular, pharmacological, anatomical and behavioral approaches to investigate neural mechanisms underlying vocal learning and plasticity in songbirds. Like humans, songbirds exhibit strong innate preferences for reproducing vocalizations typical of their own species, and learning occurs quickly if these stimuli are heard at an appropriate age.

Recent work indicates that some of the same neural pathways, transmitter systems, and biochemical cascades linked generally to reinforcement-based learning also are critical for vocal learning. One aspect of our work aims to characterize biochemical and synaptic changes related to the encoding of auditory memories used as templates for vocal imitation. Currently, several studies are focused on elucidating the role of basal ganglia pathways and dopaminergic neuromodulatory systems on establishing song-related memories that will later serve as the target for vocal development. We also employ the avian song system as a model in which to study adaptive sensorimotor plasticity. The broad aim of our research program is to uncover biological processes that underlie learning and regulate its efficiency.

Selected Publications

Research Collaborators

Ernest J. Nordeen, Professor, Dept Brain & Cognitive Sciences, U. Rochester

Research Support

For the past 25 years, my research has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation. Current funding support also comes from the Schmitt Foundation, and the Whitehall Foundation.

Courses

BCS/NSC 203: Laboratory in Neurobiology

Current Students

Sudhir Kunchala

Abhishek Sharma

Ellen Tran

Former Graduate Students and Postdocs

Dr. Farida Sohrabji, 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.