Development, Plasticity & Repair
The Neuroscience Program at USC has a comprehensive program of research investigating all aspects of the development of neuronal function. Research in Developmental Neurobiology examines mechanism at all stages, from the beginning of the nervous system, when the neuronal pathways essential for communication within the brain are generated, through to later periods when the specificity of neural connections is shaped by experiential inputs. A mechanistic understanding of the development of neuronal function will facilitate both an understanding of disease states as well as the design of therapeutic treatments endeavoring to reverse degeneration conditions in the nervous system.
Specific areas of interest at USC include the mechanisms by which different neural cell types assume their identity and connect into a particular neural circuit. USC researchers are examining the role of molecular and cellular cues in the dynamic and complex environment of the nervous system in both the guidance and branching of axons and the subsequent formation and elimination of synapses. There is particular interest in the role of glia during development, both in synaptic maintenance and the formation of myelin that insulates axons. An additional area of strength is in the examination of the foundation of behavior. Researchers are actively investigating the cellular mechanisms underlying activity-dependent synaptic plasticity, which is thought to underlie many forms of learning and memory. Other research into the development of different behaviors and their neural substrates examines the role of trophic factors on neuronal survival and morphology, as well as synaptic efficacy, and the genetic basis of behavior in various model systems. Finally, USC researchers are investigating how to repair the nervous function after it is damaged following developmental abnormality or disease. Ongoing work in bioengineering includes the development of neural prosthetics in the visual system.