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Research

The Department of Neurology has a large number of active research programs, including both fundamental research efforts and translational programs. This research encompasses many areas in the neurobiology of disease and clinical application.

Fundamental research in the Department of Neurology emphasizes the neurobiology of disease in the following areas:

  • Aging and dementia
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Behavioral neurology
  • Brain repair
  • Neural stem cells
  • Neuroimmunology
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Neuro-oncology
  • Epilepsy
  • Muscle disease
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Stroke

The Department of Neurology Clinical Trials Section has ongoing efforts in experimental therapeutics for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, peripheral neuropathy and stroke.Various approaches are used in these trials, most prominently pharmacotherapy, but other methods are also employed, including:

  • Neurosurgical intervention
  • Electrical and magnetic stimulation
  • Brain-computer interfaces
  • Stem cell therapies

A research priority of the Department of Neurology is to build translational programs, bringing bench research to the bedside and taking advantage of our strengths in basic cellular, molecular and systems neuroscience research. The goal is to bring these findings to the stage of experimental clinical therapeutics.

Learn more about our researchers in the following areas:

Aging and Dementia »

Szofia Bullain, MD: Instructor, is working on the epidemiology of aging, focusing her study on the oldest old population (more than 90 years old).

Maria Corrada-Bravo, ScD: Associate professor, is an epidemiologist who focuses her efforts on aging, dementia, the oldest old, risks and protective factors for dementia, and on longitudinal epidemiological studies in aging and dementia.

Claudia Kawas, MD: Professor, concentrates on the epidemiology of aging and Alzheimer's disease, determinants of successful aging, longitudinal and clinical pathological investigations, clinical trials, and most recently, studies in cognitive and functional abilities of the oldest old.

Alzheimer's Disease »

Carl Cotman, PhD: Professor, aims at understanding the mechanisms of neuronal degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and the development of interventions to promote successful aging. This laboratory has been investigating the possibility that the accumulation of risk factors in the aged brain such as beta-amyloid and oxidative damage activate pathways associated with apoptosis.

David Cribbs, PhD: Professor, designs and develops immunotherapeutic approaches for treating Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other neurodegenerative diseases. He has developed a new mouse model that combines a novel hypertension protocol with a very old Tg2576 amyloid precursor protein (APP) transgenic mouse that accumulates significant CAA in the large cerebral vessels and the meninges.

Frank LaFerla, PhD: Professor (secondary appointment), investigates the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease. His laboratory has developed several transgenic mouse models of neurodegenerative disorders, including the first transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer disease that recapitulates the two major neuropathological lesions, plaques and tangles. This mouse model, referred to as the 3xTg-AD mice, has been used to understand the relationship between plaques and tangles and how each affects the development of the other; more significantly, this model has proven invaluable for the pre-clinical evaluation of novel therapeutic compounds.

Behavioral Neurology »

Steven L. Small, PhD, MD: Professor and chair, investigates the basic neurobiology of language, particularly related to neural mechanisms of sensory and motor interactions in comprehension of naturally occurring language. His work mainly uses functional magnetic resonance imaging, but also incorporates other imaging modalities, neurophysiology, and computational modeling.

Arnold Starr, MD: Professor emeritus and former chair, studies the neurobiological bases of clinical disorders of the nervous system that affect sensation, motor performance and cognition. These studies employ electrophysiological and behavioral methods to define functional mechanisms underlying clinical syndromes, particularly in auditory function.

Brain Repair »

Steven C. Cramer, MD: Professor, focuses on brain plasticity after neural injury, particularly stroke. A major emphasis is the study of new therapies to promote plasticity and thereby reduce human disability, complemented by investigations into the mechanisms of human brain plasticity.

An Do, MD: Instructor, studies neural repair and neurorehabilitation with emphasis on brain-computer interfaces. Currently, he is using surface electroencephalography to interpret neural signals to help individuals regain movement after stroke.

Steven L. Small, PhD, MD: Professor and chair, focuses on brain repair of higher cortical functions, particularly language. His recent work aims to use physiological methods to remediate language disorders and hand motor dysfunction in stroke.

Ana Solodkin, PhD: Associate professor (secondary appointment), focuses on brain plasticity in neurological disease using a variety of methods, including structural, diffusion and functional MRI and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Her analytical approach targets dynamic changes through the mathematical modeling of brain networks. Her research intends to describe changes in brain circuitry resulting from disease severity and concurrent treatments in motor stroke and spinocerebellar ataxia.

Neural Stem Cells »

Lisa Flanagan, PhD: Assistant professor, investigates mechanisms that control functional neurons’ generation from stem cells. Using mouse and human neural stem cells, her lab has begun to identify genetic and environmental cues that regulate the cells’ proliferation and neuronal differentiation. The Flanagan lab also is exploring three-dimensional biomaterials that would be suitable as transplantation scaffolds for both neural and human embryonic stem cells. In collaboration with biomedical engineering Professor Abe Lee, she is using engineered microfluidic platforms to prospectively sort stem cells and expose them to continuous gradients of soluble factors in order to determine optimal conditions to specify differentiation.

Neuroimmunology and Multiple Sclerosis »

Michael Demetriou, MD, PhD: Associate professor, studies how genetic and metabolic regulation of protein glycosylation controls the function and activity of cell surface glycoproteins to affect cell growth and disease states. Recent data in humans indicate that multiple known environmental and genetic risk factors for multiple sclerosis converge to dysregulate N-glycan branching. Oral supplementation with the simple sugar N-acetyl glucosamine (GlcNAc) rescues N-glycan branching deficiency on mouse T cells in vivo, inhibits experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis and spontaneous autoimmune diabetes in mice, and improved disease in eight of 12 human children with treatment-resistant inflammatory bowel disease.

Neuro-oncology »

Daniela Bota, MD, PhD: Assistant professor, addresses the mechanisms of chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment, and chemotherapy’s impact on neural stem cells and adult neuronal dendritic structures. She is also working on malignant gliomas’ unique sensitivity to inhibitors of protein folding and degradation. She designs and conducts clinical trials for patients with brain and spinal cord tumors.

Epilepsy »

Tallie Z. Baram, MD, PhD: Professor (secondary appointment) focuses on intense excitation during development and its long-term influence on neuronal functions. Dr. Baram studies mechanisms and consequences of abnormal excitability that are specific to the developmental period, aiming to uncover whether seizures early in life change the brain permanently, via functional or structural injury of hippocampal neurons. Dr. Baram focuses on corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH), the key neuropeptide mediating the neuroendocrine response to stress, including the regulation of CRH gene expression in the hippocampus and amygdala, and effects of CRH on neuronal excitation and survival.

Jack Lin, MD: Associate professor, uses advanced imaging techniques to uncover the cognitive complications of early-onset temporal lobe epilepsy.

Neuromuscular Disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis »

Tahseen Mozaffar, MD: Professor, focuses on understanding molecular and cellular pathogenesis of neuroimmunological, genetic and neurodegenerative diseases of neuromuscular and spinocerebellar systems. Research efforts employ various methodologies including genetics, electrophysiology, cell biology and animal behavior.

Neurodegeneration »

John Weiss, MD, PhD: Professor, aims to elucidate factors and mechanisms that contribute to disease-associated degeneration of neurons in the CNS and to identify potential new approaches to decreasing that injury. His research has provided groundbreaking insights into which factors make certain subsets of central neurons especially vulnerable to degeneration in these conditions. Early studies proposed that activating AMPA/kainate types of glutamate receptors may play previously unappreciated roles. Other studies examined how the endogenous cation, Zn2+, may contribute to neurodegeneration. He is examining specific factors that include the presence of unusual Ca2+ and Zn2+ permeable AMPA channels on certain neurons, intracellular homeostasis of these ions, and ways in which these ions can each induce deleterious effects on mitochondria. Other ongoing studies use disease models to examine ways in which these mechanisms contribute to injury and to testing new therapeutic interventions.

Stroke »

Mark Fisher, MD: Professor and former chair, investigates brain specific hemostasis regulatory mechanisms by analyzing astrocyte- and pericyte-endothelial interactions in a variety of blood-brain barrier models.

Steven C. Cramer, MD: Professor, focuses on the motor manifestations of stroke, particularly related to long-term functional outcomes.

Experimental Therapeutics »

Steven C. Cramer, MD: Professor, performs clinical trials in acute stroke and in brain repair for the chronic manifestations of stroke.

Neal Hermanowicz, MD: Professor, has a very large practice in Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and other movement disorders, and has a large number of ongoing clinical trials, with every trial meeting or exceeding patient recruitment requirements.

Claudia Kawas, MD: Professor, performs clinical trials in the area of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. She is director of the clinical core of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

Tahseen Mozaffar, MD: Professor, manages a large number of clinical trials in various neuromuscular diseases, and in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). In ALS, Dr. Mozaffar has by far the largest clinical trial effort in Southern California.

Aimee Pierce, MD: Assistant Professor, works in the area of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and is initiating clinical trials for people with a variety of types of memory disorders.

Mona Sazgar, MD: Associate professor, works in the area of epilepsy clinical trials, and has just initiated a new pharmacological trial at UC Irvine, the first trial in epilepsy in many years.