UTSA professor receives $1.29 million grant to chase the brain's deepest mysteries

Researcher will explore how the brain communicates across its hemispheres

(May 22, 2017) -- Alfonso Apicella, assistant professor of biology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has received a $1.29 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support his research in communication between the two halves of the brain.

"Dr. Apicella's work is a source of immense pride," said George Perry, Semmes Foundation Distinguished University Chair in Neurobiology and dean of the UTSA College of Sciences. "This is an exciting time for brain health research, and this work is another example of UTSA's top-tier research efforts."

Apicella's research focuses on the corpus callosum, a bundle of neural fibers that makes communication between the two hemispheres of the brain possible. It is largely mysterious to scientists.

"We still don't know what mechanisms the corpus callosum uses, therefore we cannot study in very great details its functions and effects," Apicella said.

With this new grant, Apicella will delve into the connection between the corpus callosum and auditory signals.

"When you hear something with your left ear, the right part of your brain processes it and vice versa," he said. "The two hemispheres are working together to respond to the sound. What we're trying to understand is how they're working together through the corpus callosum."

Apicella is taking a special look at schizophrenia since it is frequently characterized by auditory hallucinations. He believes those hallucinations could be a result of miscommunication between the brain's two hemispheres.

Another focus will be autism. Previous research has shown that individuals with autism can have a thin or underdeveloped corpus callosum. Animals with this characteristic tend not to interact socially. Apicella believes that a greater understanding of autism could lie in a better understanding of the corpus callosum.

"A number of medical conditions could be addressed with this research," he said. "It's not a cure, but it's a step along the way and in the process we'll be chasing one of the brain's oldest mysteries."

UTSA is ranked among the top 400 universities in the world and among the top 100 in the nation, according to Times Higher Education.

- Joanna Carver

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