Author: Anahita Hamidi

Navigating through space with Dr. May-Britt Moser

Genetic Expressions

stagepic“Wow, nice to see you all,” she said peering out from the bright lights of her stage, smiling at the crowd of over 29, 000 conference attendees. These were the first words Dr. May-Britt Moser spoke when she took the stage for SFN’s 2015 Presidential lecture last Tuesday. The question on everyone’s mind: What does this Nobel Prize winning scientist possibly have to share with us tonight? 

Retrospectively, a few key phrases immediately come to mind: Flintstone. Rats. Rats riding cars. Grids. Speed. Pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus of the mesencephalic locomotor region. Right. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’d like to actually go through the (old and new) data she presented, but first —

A word on neuronal naming conventions: Stimulus-responsive cells are named based on the specific stimulus parameter they are most sensitive to. In other words, they fire (or in the words of May-Britt Moser: pop-pop-pop-pop-pop!) when they are presented with a stimulus they like. For example a flapperdoodle cell…

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Last year Tahoe, this year Pt Reyes: The UC Davis Neuroscience Retreat


Photo taken by Dr. Tony Simon @22qUCDMIND

Every summer, at UC Davis, a handful of first and second-year neuroscience graduate students work together with the amazing administrators of our graduate group for one purpose: organize, plan and execute the annual UCD Neuroscience retreat at one of two locations: Lake Tahoe or Point Reyes. Planning includes everything from: recruiting faculty and student speakers from the group, inviting a special guest lecturer, securing deposits and assigning rooms, choosing snack and coffee packages, coordinating rides and setting up the entertainment portion of the evening. This year, our hard working organizers were: Lauren Fink, Jamie Krueger, Jon Wong and Tyler Manning and our special guest lecturer was Dr.John Huguenard from Stanford University.

The keynote lecture by Dr.Huguenard was less of a lecture and more of a classroom-style conversation. Alongside interesting data and historical facts, Dr. Huguenard peppered our group with “quiz questions” to keep us engaged and actively participating.


The UC Davis Neuroscience retreat is an annual event and, as such, includes a few key traditions:

  • Hats in honor of Dr. Barbara Chapman (next year, let’s do more of these)
  • Officially welcoming our first-years into the cohort
  • Celebrating the achievements of our group
  • Fun, lively (and fiercely competitive) gaming


… and we also added a few new items to this list, which we hope will develop into long-standing traditions:

  • We were joined by students and faculty at UC Merced
  • We began tweeting like there was no tomorrow (#neuroretreat15)
  • We eventually took the evening dance party outside to a huge field and danced the night away under the moonlight


As games begin to wind down, this group (left to right: Dr. Elva Diaz, Danny Sanculi, Jenny Mohn, Darlene Archer) start pumping the music and warming up the dance floor 

 As always, we couldn’t have done this without our lovely administrator Cristeta Rillera – so thank you. Until next year!


Cristeta Rillera & Anahita Hamidi enjoying lunch and “coffee talk” at Marconi Center

The Modular Brain: Perspectives in Neuroscience with Mark D’Esposito

Mark Desposito

The Perspectives in Neuroscience Seminar Series 2015-16 edition kicked off this past Thursday, September 24th with an engaging lecture by Dr. Mark D’Esposito of UC Berkeley. After spending some time convincing the UC Davis group of neuroskeptics that fMRI can, and does indeed, pick up on segregated patterns of activity across the brain, Dr.D’Esposito shared his lab’s data on the modular (yet integrated) brain. His research team assessed whole-brain network structure in a set of patients with various types of focal brain lesions. Interestingly, those lesions found in areas deemed “connectors” (important hubs facilitating between-network communication) resulted in greater changes in the overall network structure of the brain than did lesions of comparable size elsewhere (i.e. not connectors). Furthermore, the local perturbation in one hemisphere of the brain had widespread effects on the rest of the network as a whole. In the words of Gratton and Nomura:

“These findings fundamentally revise our understanding of the remote effects of focal brain damage and may explain numerous puzzling cases of functional deficits that are observed following brain injury.” – Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24(6):1275-85, 2012 

Thus, despite the time spent discussing the modularity of different brain networks and areas, the inevitable fact that networks are also, undeniably, connected to one another remains. Or in Dr. D’Esposito’s own words: “to summarize, the brain is mostly modular”. Importantly, however, this modular view has real clinical implications. For example, in a more recent study conducted by his research team, modularity is predictive of patient responsiveness to cognitive brain training. Additionally, the lesions found at specific “connectors” are linked to various predictable brain diseases. Work is still ongoing.

After the lecture, a group of graduate students and post docs had the opportunity to have lunch with Dr.D’Esposito and pick his brain about training students, running a lab, setting up a synergistic team, and measuring your success as a scientist.

It was a strong start to our Perspective in Neuroscience Seminar Series (which we will be indexing on Twitter using hashtag #PINSS15 from now on, so stay tuned!) A link to the schedule of upcoming talks in the series can be found here.

UC Davis and UCLA host Statewide Science Informing Policy Symposium on Early Psychosis: Prevention & Early Intervention

Genetic Expressions

Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 5.21.22 PM

On Thursday September 17th, 2015 the Behavioral Health Centers of Excellence (BHCOE) at UC Davis and UCLA will host their first “Science Informing Policy Symposium” at the Sacramento Education Building, 4610 X Street Lecture Hall 2222. The daylong conference will kickoff at 8am and will include a series of lectures and panel discussions. The emphasis of this year’s symposium will be disseminating information about early-intervention and prevention of mental health disorders, using evidence-based medicine. From the press release:

“A gathering of mental health experts from across the nation will examine how evidence-based research can advance treatments — and improve lives — for young people developing serious mental illness is the focus of a daylong symposium aimed at the agencies that most often deliver those therapies: county, state and national mental-health services providers.”

I will be hosting a Twitter chat under the handle @UCDBrainHealth. You can follow the conversation using #SIPS15 and…

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The Behavioral Health Center of Excellence at UC Davis Puts its Neuroscience Tools to Good Use

Genetic Expressions

These days it seems that neuroscience and its fancy new tools are in the news — a lot. Coming off the heels of Obama’s BRAIN Initiative announcement in April 2013, this attention is entirely unsurprising and timely. From the extensively covered optogenetics, to the controversial and non-invasive method of transcranial direct stimulation (tDCS), to the science-fiction like promise of CLARITY (a 3D visualization technique of intact rodent brains), it seems that neuroscientists are unstoppable. With these technologies in hand, the relevant question has become: how do we most effectively implement these tools to answer the most pressing research questions of our society today? 

cam carter at ucd

Dr. Cameron Carter, Director of the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience and UC Davis Imaging Research Center addressed some of these issues in a public lecture, this past Monday, at the UC Davis Health Center in Sacramento entitled Brain Research: New Discoveries and Breakthroughs at UC Davis

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Abby Laman-Maharg wins $5,000 Chancellor’s Grand Prize for Best Oral Presentation

Our UCD neuroscience graduate group has consistently been well-represented at the GSA sponsored Interdisciplinary Graduate and Professional Student Symposium (IGPS) and this year was no exception. Major congrats to our very own Abby Laman-Maharg. Her oral presentation, Stress and Sex: How Context Affects Depression, won the $5,000 Chancellor’s Grand Prize for Best Oral Presentation and Dean’s Prize for Best Oral Presentation in Social Sciences! You can read more about this year’s (IGPS) event here.



Announcing CETI: Career Exploration Through Internships

Attn all Advanced-to-Candidacy students.

Here is a unique opportunity to explore career options!

The Career Exploration Through Internships Program (CETI) is a program at UC Davis that allows graduate students to do internships in a broad range of career settings beyond academic research/teaching. The goal of CETI is to provide graduate students with hands-on experience in appropriate career environments in order to help them make informed decisions about which of the many career paths to pursue. The program is open to PhD students in Biomedical Engineering, Food Science, Immunology, Integrative Genetics and Genomics, Integrative Pathobiology, Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Physiology, Neuroscience, Pharmacology and Toxicology and Plant Biology who have advanced to candidacy. 

Applications are due Friday, November 14. All are welcome to the information sessions.

For more information, attend one of the CETI Information Sessions:

Wednesday, Oct 22, 12:10 to 1:00 pm, 234 South Hall

Wednesday, Oct 29, 4:10 to 5:00 pm, 2205 Medical Education Building, Sacramento

Thursday, Oct 30, 4:10 to 5:00 pm, 234 South Hall

Questions? Contact Janice Morand, UC Davis, CETI Program Coordinator.

Welcome to Graduate School at UC Davis!

Believe it or not, it’s almost Fall! Sure, the leaves aren’t changing colors (because hey, it’s always summer in California) but incoming students across various graduate groups are settling into our charming little college town of Davis and the Week of Orientation and Welcome (WOW) will soon be underway. In fact, tomorrow marks the beginning of a series of events put on by Graduate Studies which are set up to usher an incoming class of graduate students to UC Davis.

Two orientations will take place this week: (1) International Graduate Student Orientation (IGSO) and (2) Graduate Diversity Orientation Program (GDOP). Both are three-day orientations that begin tomorrow (the 17th) and run through the 19th. The Week of Orientation and Welcome (WOW) the following week, September 22-26th.

You can read more about all these events here.

Just be sure to register for any sessions you are interested in attending ahead of time! And of course, to the incoming neuroscience class: we, the upperclass(wo)men (aka: the older ones) are always here to answer your questions!


Hello, Fall. Farewell, David Hubel.

It’s officially Fall. We’re gearing up for a new school year (yes, yes, I know…graduate school is a 365-days-a-year endeavor) and though our calendars are already starting to fill up with classes, TA-ship responsibilities, journal club meetings, seminar talks (David Eagleman is coming on Monday!!) and conference meetings … we would be absolutely remiss as a graduate group to gloss over the passing of a neuroscience giant this past week: Dr. David Hubel. 


Last night, I watched a few youtube videos of the landmark Hubel-Wiesel experiments and smiled at the recognition of a sweet familiar accent; Dr. Hubel, I had forgotten, was not only a fellow neuroscientist but also a fellow Canadian (our similarities end there). Such moments as his passing are moments to remember: we stand on the shoulders of giants. I say that sincerely, without the pretentious and hackneyed quality that may accompany it. The thing is, it’s easy for us neuroscientists to forget: we owe so much to those who came before us. Maybe it’s because every discovery we make about the brain is guaranteed to come with a host of other complex questions. As neuroscientists, we feel often (quite acutely) the unbalanced ratio of the known to the unknown.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Humility never hurt a soul and a good challenge inspired many a great discovery. But perhaps it would also do us some good, from time to time, to look back at the lives of others who have dedicated themselves to a life of research. Those who used the unknowns as a constant source of inspiration. Those who kept themselves young at heart and engaged in their work with joy.

Here’s to you, Dr. Hubel.

[photocredits: NYTimes, September 24 2013]