(Sept. 28, 2010)--Todd Troyer, assistant professor of neuroscience in the UTSA Department of Biology and a member of the UTSA Neurosciences Institute, has received a three-year, $400,898 grant from the National Science Foundation's Neural Systems Cluster to continue his research on how birds learn to sing. Troyer's findings will contribute to a better understanding of how the human brain functions during neurological disorders.
Although U.S. universities employ only a handful of songbird researchers, their findings are influencing how the research and clinical communities view neurological disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and Parkinson's disease. During OCD, patients are unable to switch off a brain circuit that produces a certain task. Understanding how a songbird's brain controls changes from one musical note to a different note is helping researchers form new hypotheses on how the human brain may get stuck repeating a single behavior.
Songbird researchers also have demonstrated that the basal ganglia circuits behave similarly in human and bird brains. In humans, the basal ganglia long have been known to regulate motor skills and learning. The circuit malfunctions in Parkinson's patients, who have difficulty starting or changing tasks. Songbirds use their basal ganglia during song practice and performance and to regulate song variability.
Troyer has spent a significant amount of time studying zebra finches, which learn to sing by mimicking their fathers. The process takes about three months to fine tune and results in a song unique to each finch. The new funding will allow Troyer to determine how a finch's brain sequences musical notes and how it controls changes from one note to a different note. Ultimately, he will map the bird's active brain cells to corresponding parts of its song.
Troyer also will repeat his research in adult birds. Using Bengalese finches, he will collaborate with University of California, San Francisco electrophysiologist Michael Brainard to record the activity of single brain cells as birds sing. They will analyze the variation in both brain activity and song output. These data then will be used to build computer models of how the brain activity is coordinated as the bird sings.
"It is extremely important to support basic science because we rarely know where the next advance is coming from," said Troyer. "Researchers didn't set out to make a link between song learning and neurological disorders. It's just something that happened after years of fundamental research. Given this type of unpredictability, there is great value in conducting general research. The knowledge it generates will surely help out in ways that are currently unknown."
To learn more about opportunities for graduate students interested in songbird research, contact Todd Troyer at 210-458-5487.
About the UTSA Neurosciences Institute
The UTSA Neurosciences Institute is a multidisciplinary research organization for integrated brain studies. The institute's mission is to foster a collaborative community of scientists committed to studying the biological basis of human experience and behavior, and the origin and treatment of nervous system diseases. Focus areas include nervous system development; neuronal and network computation; sensory, motor and cognitive function; learning and memory and the disease processes that impact them; implementing mathematical and computational tools in experimental neurobiology; and mathematical theory of neurons and nervous systems.
About the UTSA Department of BiologyLed by 48 tenured and tenure-track faculty, the UTSA Department of Biology offers a variety of teaching and research programs including biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology, developmental biology, ecology, immunology, microbiology, neurobiology, physiology, plant hormones and gene expression and virology. Its research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, U.S. Forest Service and private foundations, totaling more than $8 million annually.
The UTSA East Asia Institute hosts District 8 City Councilman Ron Nirenberg who will discuss his recent trip to China for the 8th annual Sister Cities International forum. He will discuss how these conversations help citizens connect in an increasingly global world to exchange ideas and tackle issues affecting all of us.
University Center, Denman Room (UC 2.01.28), Main Campus
Antonio Petrov, assistant professor in the UTSA College of Architecture, Construction and Planning, invites San Antonio to engage in dialogue to gather a broad understanding of Puro. he symposium, which includes UTSA masters students, will be led by community members who embody the term. It's free and open to the public.
Brick at Blue Star Arts Complex, Bldg. 108, 1414 S. Alamo St., San Antonio
Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson, associate professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, and African American Studies, at the University of California at Los Angeles is the guest speaker at this free, open event. Johnson is also the author of "Spaces of Conflict Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spacial Entitlement in Los Angeles" and "Futures of Black Radicalism."
University Center, Denman Room (UC 02.01.28), Main Campus
The UTSA Consortium for Social Transformation; African American Studies Program presents guest speaker Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson, associate professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, and African American Studies, University of California at Los Angelesand author of "Spaces of Conflict Sounds of Solidarity: Music, Race, and Spacial Entitlement in Los Angeles" and "Futures of Black Radicalism." The event is free and open to the public.
University Center, Denman Room (UC 2.01.28), Main Campus
Grab your friends, family, kids and dog for this annual fun run on the UTSA Main Campus benefititng the UTSA Alumni Association.
Convocation Center, Main Campus
Join the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching for the 13th annual Storytelling Festival. The festival will feature keynote speaker Carolina Quiroga-Stultz, a Colombian Storyteller and journalist. This event is free and open to the public.
Main Building, ground floor, Main Campus
The IDS Colloquium showcases the excellent scholarship done by the IDS students in the College of Education and Human Development at UTSA. In addition, this event also honors the legacy of Dr. Marian Martinello.
Business Building, University Room (BB 2.06.04), Main Campus
The Department of Biology and the Be the Match Team will collaborate to engage and educate our students in the importance of a life saving donation through peripheral blood stem cells and a marrow harvest.
UC Paseo and Central Plaza, Main Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.