Neuroscience PhD Program Faculty

Core Faculty | Affiliated Faculty

Core Faculty

Core Faculty in the Neuroscience PhD program are those at the UTSA Main Campus in whose labs Neuroscience students can pursue doctoral dissertation research.

Alfonso Apicella
Alfonso Apicella, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

The goal of Dr. Apicella's lab is to reveal the neural basis of perception. More specifically, he wants to understand exactly how cortical microcircuits process sensory information to drive behavior. To assess how populations of neurons concur to encode information, generate perceptions, and execute behavioral decisions requires working at both the cellular and system level. Towards this goal, by turning neurons "ON" and "OFF" using optogenetic and pharmacogenetic approaches, the lab can monitor and then manipulate specific subsets of neurons in awake behaving mice.
» lab

Anthony Burgos-Robles
Anthony Burgos-Robles, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

The main interest of Dr. Burgos-Robles' lab is to understand alterations on brain function by psychological stress. Using animal models, the lab uses sophisticated tools to evaluate the evolution of stress-induced alterations in the activity of discrete neural populations and circuits. Particularly, they focus on limbic regions such as the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex, which are necessary for emotional learning, as well as their projections to key downstream regions that promote aversive and rewarding behavior, such as the periaqueductal gray and the nucleus accumbens, respectively.

Melanie Carless
Melanie Carless, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Dr. Carless' research focuses on identifying genetic and epigenetic factors associated with complex diseases, and in understanding how these might contribute to disease risk, and be leveraged as potential novel therapies. She is particularly interested in how epigenetic mechanisms such as DNA methylation, DNA hydroxymethylation, and microRNAs contribute to gene regulation, and consequently risk for metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes and obesity) and neurological and psychiatric diseases (e.g., Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder). To accomplish this, her laboratory employs a range of approaches, including cohort-based studies, post-mortem tissue analysis, animal models and cell-based systems, as well as cutting-edge technologies, including stem cells, organoids, next-generation sequencing and epigenetic editing using the CRISPR/dCas9 system.

Thomas Forsthuber
Thomas Forsthuber, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor

Dr. Forsthuber's lab pursues several lines of investigation to understand how the immune system, in particular T cells, contribute to autoimmune diseases and how to modulate T cell immunity for therapeutic purposes in humans. Specifically, he studies immune mechanisms in the central nervous system in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), the animal model for MS. Moreover, Dr. Forsthuber studies human autoimmune heart disease in a model called experimental autoimmune myocarditis. His research is aimed towards direct applicability to human diseases, for example by developing novel drugs for autoimmune diseases and biomarkers to monitor the efficacy of treatments for autoimmune diseases.
» lab

Chris Gamblin
Chris Gamblin, Ph.D.
Professor

The Gamblin laboratory studies the mechanisms that lead to the polymerization of the microtubule-associated protein tau. Tau is a protein that is important in neuronal function, but can misfold and aggregate into pathological structures that accumulate in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease. The main approach of the Gamblin lab is to use a variety of small molecules to induce the aggregation of a wide array of biological variants of the tau protein to identify conditions to produce disease-relevant strains of tau in vitro for further characterization. We use these approaches to better understand the effects of modifications of tau found in disease on tau aggregation; to identify potential therapeutics to slow, stop, or reverse tau aggregation; and to identify other biological factors that may influence tau aggregation in disease.

Gary Gaufo
Gary Gaufo, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

The long-term goal of Dr. Gaufo's laboratory is to understand the mechanisms that regulate plasticity in living organisms. In its simplest definition, plasticity is the capacity of single- or multi-celled organisms to adapt to their environment. Using the mouse as a model organism, the lab's research focuses on neural crest and preimplantation embryonic cells to study plasticity. Neural crest cells are multipotent progenitor stem cells that are unique to vertebrates. In addition to giving rise to most peripheral neurons and glial cells, neural crest cells give rise to an array of cell types that make up the head. Preimplantation embryonic cells are the ultimate in vertebrate cellular plasticity; they have the potential to differentiate into both embryonic and non-embryonic tissues, which includes the placenta. These broad categories of cell types thus provide a solid platform the dissect the molecular basis of cellular plasticity in a mammalian model organism.

Ed Golob
Ed Golob, Ph.D.
Professor

Dr. Golob's research interests focus on spatial cognition, attention and working memory, perception and action in the auditory system, and normal aging and age-related cognitive disorders.

Joseph Houpt
Joseph Houpt, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Dr. Houpt's research involves mathematical psychology which is a subfield of psychology that focuses on developing and applying formal quantitative models of psychological phenomena. Most of mathematical psychology is applied to cognitive psychology, particularly memory, decision making, and reasoning.

Jenny Hsieh
Jenny Hsieh, Ph.D.
Professor

The Hsieh laboratory studies the cellular and molecular markers that control neural stem cells in the hippocampus ("adult neurogenesis") as well as a "disease-in-a dish" approach, which uses patient stem cells to re-create human brain disorders in the lab. They were the first group to use a transgenic mouse to ablate adult-born granule neurons, and they showed this decreased seizure development later in life. The lab also uses optogenetic and chemogenetic tools to define the critical period and circuit mechanism that govern the aberrant properties of adult-born granule neurons in the hippocampus circuitry. To translate their work to patients, the lab uses human induced pluripotent stem cells to evaluate the role of genetic mutations in epilepsy and neurodegenerative disorders, ultimately for precision medicine. The lab's goal is to develop novel strategies to treat or prevent neurological disorders, such as acquired and genetic forms of epilepsy. or neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease.
» lab

David Jaffe
David Jaffe, Ph.D.
Professor

Research in Dr. Jaffe's lab focuses on how individual neurons and networks of neurons process information. Their work primarily focuses on the hippocampal formation, a region of the brain important for the acquisition and consolidation of declarative information (i.e. facts and events) and one that is impacted early in Alzheimer's disease. Using a combination of electrophysiological, optogenetic, imaging, and computational approaches, the lab is currently studying how communication from the cortex is filtered through the dentate gyrus on its way into the hippocampus, and how this impacts mechanisms associated with the replay of newly encoded information during memory consolidation. The lab is also investigating how this circuit is involved in seizures and the development of epilepsy, and how seizure-induced changes in membrane ion channels (i.e. channelopathies) contribute to epileptogenesis. A second area of interest is how pain information is regulated by the dorsal root ganglion.

Hyoung-gon Lee
Hyoung-gon Lee, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Dr. Lee's research is focused mainly on the understanding of the pathological mechanism(s) underlying the selective neurodegeneration in Alzheimer disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. Multiple molecular mechanisms identified from previous research in the lab which would lead to the development of the effective therapy. Among these identified mechanisms, ongoing research in the lab is focused on cell cycle re-entry in neurodegeneration and insulin signaling in Alzheimer disease.

Itamar Lerner
Itamar Lerner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Dr. Learner's research focuses on the cognitive and computational neuroscience of memory and learning. He also researches the sleep effects on cognition and emotion.

Annie Lin
Annie Lin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

The general theme of research in Dr. Lin's lab is cell fate regulation in the human health and diseases with focus on the intersection of stem cells and cancer biology. The ongoing projects seek to understand what extent stem and progenitor cells become cancer-initiating cells. Thus, the lab's work has potential implications for basic stem cell and cancer biology as well as translational significance for treatment and prevention of diseases.

Lindsey Macpherson
Lindsey Macpherson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Dr. Macpherson's lab is interested in investigating the sense of taste and the molecules, cells, and circuits involved in chemosensation from the tongue and gut to the brain. Taste receptor cells on the tongue are specialized to be activated by only one of the five taste qualities, and signal that information to discrete populations of neurons in the gustatory ganglia through "labeled lines." This hard-wired, labeled line connectivity pattern is essential for our ability to correctly detect and discriminate tastes. The lab is interested in understanding how this gustatory circuit is organized at the cellular and molecular level.
» lab

John McCarrey
John McCarrey, Ph.D.
Professor

Research in Dr. McCarrey's lab is centered on the development, differentiation, and epigenetic regulation of mammalian germ cells and stem cells, and on the role of the epigenome as a mediator of environmental effects. Experimental systems include mice, baboons, and other mammals. The lab is interested in 1) the potential for assisted reproductive technologies (e.g. IVF), adverse lifestyles (e.g. poor diet, lack of exercise), or environmental exposures (e.g. disruptive chemicals) to induce disease-causing epimutations in the sperm that are transmitted to a male's offspring, 2) epigenetic specification and maintenance of spermatogonial stem cell fate, 3) maintenance of enhanced genetic integrity in germline and pluripotent cells, 4) regulation of gene expression in germ cells and stem cells, 5) X-chromosome activity or inactivity in germ cells, 6) epigenetic reprogramming during gametogenesis, and 7) developing the baboon as a nonhuman primate model for studies of stem cell-based therapies.
» lab

Sandra Morissette
Sandra Morissette, Ph.D.
Professor

Dr. Morissette's research interests focus on military health, post-deployment functional recovery trauma, anxiety and addictive behaviors, and smoking cessation.

Chris Navara
Chris Navara, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Research

Dr. Navara’s research focuses on the cellular biology of pluripotent stem cells. Using human pluripotent stem cells, Dr. Navara’s research group makes human nerve cells from Parkinson’s patients, tests their biology to better understand the disease, and tests new potential therapies that may slow or stop its progression. Pluripotent stem cells also hold great promise for the treatment of diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Navara’s group is using non-human primates as preclinical models for the safe testing and optimization of these therapies prior to use in the clinic.
» Stem Cell Core

George Perry
George Perry, Ph.D.
Professor

Dr. Perry's studies are focused on the mechanism of formation and physiological consequences of the cytopathology of Alzheimer disease. The lab has shown that oxidative damage is the initial cytopathology in Alzheimer disease. They are working to determine the sequence of events leading to neuronal oxidative damage and the source of the increased oxygen radicals. Current studies focus on the role of redox active metals in mediating prooxidant and antioxidant properties, the mechanism of phosphorylation control of oxidative damage to neurofilament proteins, and the mass spectrometry analysis of protein metal binding and crosslinking.
» lab

Gabriela Romero Uribe
Gabriela Romero Uribe, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Dr. Romero Uribe's research interests focus on macromolecular bio-interfaces for cell manipulation, biologically inspired drug delivery systems, soft biomedical materials, and stimuli-responsive macromolecules.

Fidel Santamaria
Fidel Santamaria, Ph.D.
Professor

Dr. Sanatmaria's long term objective is to combine theory, modeling, and experiments to understand how the cerebellum computes information; develop closed-loop systems for neuronal control, particularly those associated with deep brain stimulation; and neuromorphic devices for the solution of real-time complex signal analysis for brain machine interfaces.
» lab

Francesco Savelli
Francesco Savelli, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Dr. Savelli is a computer scientist and AI researcher turned neuroscientist. This path inspires him to study the physical and computational nature of brain functions as a "reverse engineering" problem. One high-level function concerns the use of perceptual information of external landmarks (e.g., from the visual system) and the internal sense of motion (e.g., from the vestibular or motor systems) to dynamically create your sense of location relative to a mental map of the surrounding environment. Neurons of the hippocampal formation such as place cells, grid cells, and boundary cells appear to participate in this function. Experimental and computational work in the laboratory is motivated by several broad questions: 1) What role exactly these cells have in the computations that are necessary for creating the map and for updating your sense of location; 2) How subcortical regions participate in this process; and 3) How all this relates to other types of cognitive abstractions that the hippocampal formation creates beyond maps (e.g., of time, or of autobiographical memories).

Alexey Soshnev
Alexey Soshnev, M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Aberrant cell fate decisions due to transcriptional misregulation are central to malignant transformation and developmental disorders. Histone proteins are the major constituents of chromatin – complex of nucleic acids and proteins interpreted by cellular machinery, and mutations in histone-encoding genes are increasingly recognized as drivers of disease. Mutations in linker histone genes were recently identified as drivers of peripheral lymphoid malignancy (Yusufova, … Soshnev, Cesarman, Melnick, Nature 2021), and we aim to understand the mechanistic basis of chromatin decompaction, redistribution of core histone modifications, and reactivation of stem cell–specific transcriptional programs upon H1 loss in germinal center B-cells during malignant transformation.
» lab

Alicia Swan
Alicia Swan, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Dr. Swan's research interest focuses on functional outcomes after traumatic brain injury.

Todd Troyer
Todd Troyer, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Research in the Troyer lab focuses on the question of how neural activity is coordinated within neural circuits to produce behavior. One set of research questions centers on studies of vocal communication in songbirds and mice. Songbirds are an excellent model system for understanding how the brain orchestrates activity on multiple timescales to produce a complex sequence of actions. A second line of research employs theoretical and modeling techniques to gain fundamental insights into how noise and variability influence computations in neural circuits.
» lab

Matthew Wanat
Matthew Wanat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Our actions are driven by the pursuit of rewards and avoiding aversive outcomes. We are particularly interested in studying how stress and drugs of abuse influence motivation, learning, and decision-making processes. The lab employs a number experimental techniques, including fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, chemogenetics, fiber photometry, and optogenetics. Ongoing research projects are examining the behavioral consequences of astrocyte-neuron interactions in the midbrain, the long-term consequences of stress on reward-guided behavior, and the neural circuits involved with changing reward preference. Our ultimate goal is to identify and reverse neural adaptations underlying aberrant processes in models of psychiatric disorders.
» lab

Nicole Wicha
Nicole Wicha, Ph.D.
Professor

Dr. Wicha's research focuses on understanding how the brain processes language in real time using both behavioral and brain imaging techniques. The lab has three primary areas of research that encompass their work: 1) Neural time course of language comprehension, 2) Cognitive neuroscience of bilingual language and cognition, and 3) Interface between language and other cognitive processes (e.g., math).
» lab

Charles Wilson
Charles Wilson, Ph.D.
Professor

Dr. Wilson's lab studies the circuitry and neurons of the basal ganglia, with the goal of understanding the computational function of these structures at the cellular level, and their dysfunction in diseases, especially Parkinson's Disease. Their experiments are focused on the ionic mechanisms that endow each cell type with its characteristic responses to synaptic input, the patterns of connectivity that deliver specific inputs to each cell, and the dynamics that arise from the combination of these.
» lab

Affiliated Faculty

Affiliated Faculty in the Neuroscience PhD program are those who can serve on dissertation committees for students in the program.

Lacy Barton
Lacy Barton, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Our research group explores the developmental underpinnings of fertility in early embryogenesis. We are particularly interested in a widely conserved stage when the embryonic germ cells migrate through several tissues to colonize the somatic gonad, while simultaneously undergoing many other developmental processes, including sex-specific differentiation, cell division, and population pruning. Our current focus is to understand how these processes are spatially and temporally coordinated by the surrounding soma and developing ovary and testis.
» lab

Astrid Cardona
Astrid Cardona, Ph.D.
Professor

Dr. Cardona's research is focused on understanding the mechanisms of tissue damage in Multiple Sclerosis and Diabetic retinopathy. Her laboratory focuses on the functional interactions between immune cells, microglia, neurons and blood vessels, utilizing experimental mouse models of disease, immunological assays, flow cytometry, fluorescent activated cell sorting, microscopy and molecular biology approaches.
» lab

Brian Hermann
Brian Hermann, Ph.D.
Associate Professor

Dr. Hermann's laboratory studies the basic biology of spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), which are adult-tissue stem cells responsible for sperm production in the mammalian testis and which are essential for male fertility. Ongoing studies in the lab are focused on 1) how the pool of SSCs forms during development; 2) determining how SSC fate is regulated; 3) how SCC loss due to chemotherapy can be prevented; and 4) how SCCs can be used to treat male infertility. The lab's work has potential implications for basic stem cell biology, reproduction, as well as translational significance for treatment and prevention of male infertility.
» lab

Isabel Muzzio
Isabel Muzzio, Ph.D.
Professor

Dr. Muzzio's research focuses on the variables that affect spatial navigation and episodic memory - events occurring in specific contexts at particular times. Her lab investigates how neurons in the hippocampus and other areas of the medial temporal lobe form representations of context that facilitate navigation and memory encoding. Specifically, she studies how these representations change when animals are lost, under conditions of stress and fear, and following sleep deprivation. Dr. Muzzio's lab addresses these questions conducting long-term single cell recordings in freely moving mice in combination with pharmacological, genetic, behavioral, and computational tools.

Robert Renthal
Robert Renthal, Ph.D.
Professor

Research in Dr. Renthal's lab is focused on 1) Biochemistry and biophysics of cell membranes – What are the biophysical mechanisms of folding and oligomerization of membrane-embedded proteins? How do oligomeric channels form in membranes? 2) Chemical communication by insects and ticks – How do ant colonies establish and maintain interaction networks? What semiochemicals and chemoreception-related proteins are involved in mate and host identification by tick and fly vectors of human diseases? and 3) Tick immune system – Why do tick vectors harbor pathogenic bacteria, such as Lyme disease spirochetes, instead of killing or expelling them? How do Lyme disease bacteria evade the tick immune system?
» lab

Λ