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NameEmailPhD ProgramResearch InterestPublications
Christoffel, Dan
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Neuroscience

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Neurobiology, Physiology, Translational Medicine

Dr. Christoffel aims to understand how chronic exposure to particular stimuli (i.e. stress, food, drugs) alters the functioning of specific neural circuits and investigates the mechanisms that regulate these experience-dependent changes. Current studies focus on 1) how experience-dependent plasticity in the nucleus accumbens regulates reward processing, with a focus on the consumption of palatable foods and stress modulation of food intake, and 2) examine the regulatory role of neuromodulators in hedonic feeding.

The ultimate goal of the Christoffel Lab’s research is to understand how adaptive changes in brain function occur and how this can lead to the development of psychiatric disorders. We employ cutting-edge technologies to understand the complex interactions of multiple neural systems that allow us to adapt to our environment and regulate motivated behavior.

Jacox, Laura
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Oral & Craniofacial Biomedicine, Pathobiology & Translational Science

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Developmental Biology, Molecular Biology, Pathology, Translational Medicine

The Jacox Lab aims to improve patient care and outcomes in oral health. This goal takes shape via several tracks of interdisciplinary human studies:

-A primary focus of the lab has been on outcomes of jaw surgery patients, who suffer from Dentofacial Disharmonies (DFD). Patients with DFD have severe skeletal disproportions with underbites or open bites, necessitating orthodontics and jaw surgery for full correction. Roughly 80% of our patients with DFD exhibit speech distortions, compared to 5% of the general population, which negatively impact their self-confidence and quality of life. Despite patients pursuing invasive surgery, it is unknown whether jaw surgery is palliative for articulation errors. We are using ultrasound, audio and video imaging to explore the mechanism of articulation errors among patients with DFD. Furthermore, our lab is conducting a longitudinal study of DFD patients to determine if jaw surgery improves speech distortions, in collaboration with oral surgeons, linguistics and speech pathology.

-An additional focus of our lab has been studying use of Animal Assisted Therapy for management of anxiety and pain in dentistry. Dental anxiety effects 21-50% of patients and is associated with poor long-term oral health outcomes and need for urgent care due to dental avoidance. Non-pharmacological behavior interventions like dog therapy holds promise for reducing pain and anxiety perception for patients, and therefore improving dental experiences and promoting improved health outcomes. The lab is conducting a randomized controlled trial to evaluate best practices for canine therapy in pediatric dentistry, in collaboration with pediatric dentists, a psychology professor whose expertise is anxiety, and the UNC Biobehavioral Lab.

-As part of the COVID-19 research response, we are studying FDA-approved antiseptic mouth rinses for their ability to limit salivary viral infectivity to reduce risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. If an oral rinse is found to be efficacious at inactivating the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it could be a valuable preventative measure in settings where masks are removed, such as dental care, social settings, eating out, or work presentations. This study is conducted in collaboration with leading virologists and infectious disease experts at UNC.

Walsh, Jessica
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Neuroscience, Pharmacology

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Neurobiology, Pharmacology, Physiology, Translational Medicine

Social behavior is composed of a variety of distinct forms of interactions and is fundamental to survival. Several neural circuits must act in concert to allow for such complex behavior to occur and perturbations, either genetic and/or environmental, underlie many psychiatric and neurodevelopment disorders. The Walsh lab focuses on gaining an improved understanding of the biological basis of behavior using a multi-level approach to elucidate the molecular and circuit mechanisms underlying motivated social behavior. The goal of our research is to uncover how neural systems govern social interactions and what alterations occur in disease states to inform the development of novel therapeutics or treatment strategies.

One of the major focuses of the Walsh lab is on understanding how genetic mutations, as well as experience, lead to circuit adaptations that govern impaired behavior seen in mouse models of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Our systems level analysis includes: 1) modeling these disorders with well described genetic markers, 2) defining causal relationships between activity within discrete anatomical structures in the brain that are critical to the physiology of the symptom under investigation (e.g. sociability), 3) performing deep characterization of the physiological profiles of these circuits and using that information to target specific receptors or molecules that may not have been considered for the treatment of specific ASD symptoms.

Pegard, Nicolas
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Neuroscience

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology

Our lab develops computer-driven optical instrumentation for applications in biology and neurosciences, beyond traditional imaging systems. Our research is interdisciplinary and welcomes backgrounds in optical engineering, computer sciences, biology or neurosciences. Our primary goal is to develop optical brain-machine interfaces and other technologies that use advanced light sources and detectors to probe and manipulate cellular functions deep into tissue at depths where traditional microscopy tools can no longer retrieve images.

Coleman, Leon
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Pharmacology

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Cancer Biology, Cell Signaling, Drug Discovery, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology, Pharmacology, Translational Medicine

The overriding goal of Dr. Coleman’s work is to identify novel treatments for alcohol use disorders (AUD) and associated peripheral disease pathologies. Currently, this includes: the role of neuroimmune Signaling in AUD pathology, the role of alcohol-associated immune dysfunction in associated disease states, and novel molecular and subcellular mediators of immune dysfunction such as extracellular vesicles, and regenerative medicine approaches such as microglial repopulation.

Jiang, Guochun
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Biochemistry & Biophysics

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Cell Signaling, Chemical Biology, Drug Discovery, Immunology, Metabolism, Molecular Biology, Molecular Medicine, Neurobiology, Pathogenesis & Infection, Pharmacology, Translational Medicine, Virology

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is effective in suppressing HIV-1 replication in the periphery, however, it fails to eradicate HIV-1 reservoirs in patients. The main barrier for HIV cure is the latent HIV-1, hiding inside the immune cells where no or very low level of viral particles are made. This prevents our immune system to recognize the latent reservoirs to clear the infection. The main goal of my laboratory is to discover the molecular mechanisms how HIV-1 achieves its latent state and to translate our understanding of HIV latency into therapeutic intervention.

Several research programs are undertaking in my lab with a focus of epigenetic regulation of HIV latency, including molecular mechanisms of HIV replication and latency establishment, host-virus interaction, innate immune response to viral infection, and the role of microbiome in the gut health. Extensive in vitro HIV latency models, ex vivo patient latency models, and in vivo patient and rhesus macaque models of AIDS are carried out in my lab. Multiple tools are applied in our studies, including RNA-seq, proteomics, metabolomics, highly sensitive digital droplet PCR and tissue RNA/DNAscope, digital ELISA, and modern and traditional molecular biological and biochemical techniques. We are also very interested in how non-CD4 expression cells in the Central Nervous System (CNS) get infected by HIV-1, how the unique interaction among HIV-1, immune cells, vascular cells, and neuron cells contributes to the initial seeding of latent reservoirs in the CNS, and whether we can target the unique viral infection and latency signaling pathways to attack HIV reservoirs in CNS for a cure/remission of HIV-1 and HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND). We have developed multiple tools to attack HIV latency, including latency reversal agents for “Shock and Kill” strategy, such as histone deacetylase inhibitors and ingenol family compounds of protein kinase C agonists, and latency enforcing agents for deep silencing of latent HIV-1. Several clinical and pre-clinical studies are being tested to evaluate their potential to eradicate latent HIV reservoirs in vivo. We are actively recruiting postdocs, visiting scholars, and technicians. Rotation graduate students and undergraduate students are welcome to join my lab, located in the UNC HIV Cure Center, for these exciting HIV cure research projects.

Dickerson, Brad

EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Bioinformatics & Computational Biology, Biology, Neuroscience

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Computational Biology, Neurobiology, Organismal Biology, Physiology

Research in my lab focuses on how motor output is structured by precise sensory input. To do so, we study the flight control circuitry of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. By studying these questions in Drosophila, we can leverage the powerful genetic toolkit available for the mapping, imaging, and manipulation of neural circuits. The lab directs its attention on structures that are unique to flies, known as the halteres, which act as dual-function gyroscopes that help structure the wingstroke. We take an integrative approach, combining in vivo imaging, muscle physiology, and behavior.
Rodríguez-Romaguera, Jose
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Neuroscience

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Neurobiology, Pharmacology

Psychiatric disorders such as Anxiety and Autism Spectrum Disorders are often characterized by a rapid and amplified arousal response to stimuli (hyperarousal), which is often followed by a motivational drive to avoid such stimuli. Our lab studies the neuronal circuits that drive hyperarousal states by monitoring neuronal activity with single-cell precision using in vivo calcium imaging techniques in both head-fixed (two-photon microscopy) and freely-moving (miniature head-mounted microscopes) mice to record and track the activity of hundreds of individual neurons with both genetic and projection specificity.

Linnstaedt, Sarah
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Genetics & Molecular Biology

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Computational Biology, Genetics, Neurobiology, Translational Medicine

Trauma and stress are common in life. While most individuals recover following trauma/stress exposure, a substantial subset will go on to develop adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes such as chronic pain, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and postconcussive symptoms. Our research is focused on understanding individual vulnerability to such outcomes and to identify novel biomarkers and targets for therapeutic intervention. We use translational research approaches, including bioinformatics analysis of large prospective human cohort data, animal model research, and systems and molecular biology to better understand pathogenic mechanisms. We are particularly interested in the genetic and psychiatric/social factors influencing adverse outcome development, as well as biological sex differences that contribute to higher rates of these outcomes in women vs men.

Fitting, Sylvia
WEBSITE
EMAIL
PUBLICATIONS

PHD PROGRAM
Neuroscience

RESEARCH INTEREST
Behavior, Cell Biology, Neurobiology, Pathogenesis & Infection, Pharmacology

Our lab studies the underlying structural and functional substrates of behavior in disease using rodent models. Specifically our goal is to develop a better understanding of how cellular function in the CNS is affected by drug-related substances (opioids, cannabinoids) in the context of HIV infection. That includes the study of how drugs of abuse exacerbate the pathogenesis of neuroAIDS but also the study of targets within the endocannabinoid system for the potential treatment of HIV. We use various in vivo and in vitro techniques, including primary cell culture models, behavioral conditioning tasks, live cell imaging, and electrophysiology.