December 2018                                                        View this email in your browser

Message from our Director

Ehud Isacoff, Director of the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Berkeley Brain Initiative, shares some highlights of the year in his annual Director’s message. Read about our five new faculty members—one who is also a graduate of the PhD program, HWNI’s use-inspired research, awards including the Radical Ideas in Brain Science Challenge, and a look towards the upcoming year. Read his message…

Research Discoveries


Playing just one season of football causes brain changes that correlate with head impacts

Repeated concussions over an athlete’s career are well known to cause damage to the brain, but what about less severe head impacts over a shorter timescale? To find out, Chunlei Liu and collaborators examined the brains of high school football players with MRI before and after a single football season. Although none of the players experienced concussions, the researchers found significant changes in the microstructure of cortical gray matter in regions of the brain where impacts were likely to occur, as well as changes to deeper brain structures, after just one season. The brain changes were correlated with impacts recorded by devices in the players’ helmets. To learn more, read the publication—the cover story of the November issue of Neurobiology of Disease—and the article in Berkeley News.

Two distinct brain areas predict timing in different ways

Our brains can anticipate the timing of recurring events shortly before they occur, based on memory of past experiences or the rhythm of the stimulus. By studying patients with cerebellar degeneration and Parkinson’s disease, the Ivry Lab has identified the cerebellum and basal ganglia as brain areas involved in memory-based and rhythm-based anticipatory timing, respectively. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds to our knowledge about how the brain predicts timing and may ultimately be used to improve the day-to-day lives of these patients. Read more about it in Berkeley News.

Quantifying how stereotypes lead to discriminatory behavior

Stereotypes based on characteristics such as ethnicity and gender lead to unequal treatment in many sectors, including health care, education, and employment. To better understand the relationship between stereotypes and how people treat others, Ming Hsu and colleagues developed a computational model that quantifies and predicts how stereotypes—based on the perceived warmth and competence of particular groups—affect how much money members of these groups are given in an economic game. The model also fits real-world data on discrimination in hiring and higher education. Learn more by reading the publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and an article about the research in Berkeley News.

Regret after placing a bet

By recording directly from the surface of the orbitofrontal cortex in patients undergoing neurosurgery, the Hsu and Knight labs monitored neural activity while people played a gambling game. They found that in the short time between placing a bet and learning the outcome, subjects showed patterns of neural activity that correlated with regret—over the bet prior to the one they just placed. The study, published in Current Biology, provides insight into the role of regret over past decisions and the orbitofrontal cortex in decision-making. Read more about it in Berkeley News.

To watch how students learn, track their eyes

Reasoning ability can improve with experience, but what is happening in the brain during this learning process? In a new publication in the Nature Partner Journal, Science of Learning, Silvia Bunge's group tracked eye movements—such as shifting or fixed gaze—in people taking a LSAT preparation course as a way to assess cognitive functions such as the encoding and integration of information during different types of learning. Their findings provide a way to study learning on a rapid timescale, contributing to the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and education. Learn more about the study from Berkeley News.

Deep sleep may reduce anxiety

In preliminary work presented at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting by Eti Ben Simon, a postdoctoral fellow in the Walker Lab, deep non-REM sleep appears to reduce anxiety and emotional reactivity. The researchers found that after a night of sleep deprivation, participants reported increased anxiety, and scans of their brains showed altered patterns of activity in areas related to emotional regulation. Participants that had longer periods of deep non-REM sleep had the lowest levels of anxiety and emotional reactivity. Read more about it in Berkeley News and the Washington Post.

Honors and Awards


David Schaffer receives award from Chan Zuckerberg Biohub

David Schaffer, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has been given an Intercampus Research Award from the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub to collaborate with researchers from UCSF and Stanford to develop tools to study the interactions between neuroimmune cells and other brain cells in humans. Read more…

Ke Xu receives a NIH Director’s New Innovator Award

Ke Xu, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator, has been given a NIH Director’s New Innovator Award for his work developing tools to study biological processes on the nanoscale. The award is given to early career investigators doing innovative, “high-risk, high-reward” research. Read more...

Postdoc Polina Kosillo awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant

Polina Kosillo, a postdoctoral fellow in the Bateup lab, has been awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant to study the role of mTORC1 signaling in dopamine release, which may be involved in dopamine-related disorders such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and anxiety. Read more...

PhD Program News

HWNI members meet prospective PhD students at the Society for Neuroscience meeting

The Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute was well represented at the Society for Neuroscience Graduate School Fair in San Diego this November. Candace Groskreutz, Graduate Program Manager, and many PhD students and faculty spent time at our table, educating potential applicants about our program.

Faculty members were: Michael Silver (Director, HWNI PhD Program), Dan Feldman (pictured, right), Marla Feller, Stephan Lammel, and Fritz Sommer.

Graduate students were: Zuzanna Balewski (Wallis lab, pictured behind front end of table), Jocelyn Breton (Kaufer lab, pictured behind far end of table), Jenna Adams (Jagust lab), Celia Ford (Wallis lab), Keven LaBoy (Feldman lab), Lily Gong (Theunissen lab), Susan Hao (Bishop lab), Jacob Miller (D’Esposito lab), Arjun Mukerji (Silver lab), Tobias Schmid (Yartsev lab), Christine Tseng (Gallant lab), and Kevin Yu (Theunissen lab).

A big thank you to everyone who helped this year! We look forward to meeting prospective new students during interviews in February. 



PhD program alum Emily Cooper returns to Berkeley as faculty, studying vision in the real world and applying it to virtual worlds

We are pleased to announce that PhD program alum Emily Cooper has recently joined us as a HWNI faculty member! Now an Assistant Professor in the School of Optometry & Vision Science Program, Cooper’s research focuses on human visual perception, particularly in three dimensions, and how it is used in natural environments. She also uses her findings about vision to help make better display technologies, such as those used in virtual and augmented reality. In our Q&A, Cooper discusses how she went from being an English major to a neuroscientist, how her experiences at HWNI supported her career, her collaborations with industry, and what it is like to come full circle from HWNI graduate student to faculty member. Read the full profile…

The person behind the science: an interview with Richard Ivry

When he is not studying the planning and production of skilled movements, Professor of Psychology Richard Ivry enjoys being outdoors—hiking, biking, and surfing. Learn more about him by reading or listening to this interview from the People Behind the Science podcast, where Ivry talks about his path in science, his stint as union organizer, advice for graduate students, high and low points, and more.

Historical Discovery


Burt Green Wilder debunked biased claims about brain size and pioneered neuroscience outreach to children

While researching the history of a brain area he studies, Assistant Professor of Psychology Kevin Weiner (pictured) stumbled upon mention of anatomist Burt Green Wilder (1841-1925) and became fascinated with this outspoken critic of shoddy science and champion of neuroscience education. In a new publication in the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, Weiner describes how Wilder was a defender of science against those who would misuse it to support racial and gender discrimination, conducted the first “Brain Day” to teach children about the brain, and advocated for standardized neuroanatomical nomenclature. Read our article to learn more about Wilder and why Weiner was motivated to tell his story.



Why scientists should embrace teaching

In a NeuroView article published in Neuron, Professor of Neurobiology Marla Feller makes the case that teaching undergraduates is not only personally satisfying, but also helps advance science in several ways, including prompting scientists to think more broadly about their own research. Read our article and the publication to find out more.
Maintaining brain health while fighting cancer

In a Berkeley Blog post, Arthur Shimamura—Emeritus Professor and author of Get SMART!: Five Steps Toward a Healthy Brain—shares how he took his own advice to “Get Social, Get Moving, Get Artistic, Get Responsive, and Get Thinking” while facing the challenges of a cancer diagnosis.
Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list