The goal of the Neuroscience and Behavior group at the Center for Engineering in Medicine & Surgery is to develop techniques that optimize the functionality of the neural circuits underlying behavior.

The overarching goal of this group is to develop techniques to optimize the functionality of the neural circuits that underlie behavior. Toward this end, we are primarily focused on an animal model that we have developed and studied over the last several years. Using this model, we break down the broad question of how the brain shapes--and is shaped by--environmental changes into three key questions.

First, how do differential rearing conditions, both social and physical, impact neurological development and neuroplasticity at the cellular and physiological levels? Second, how do such changes in synaptic plasticity impact behavior and stress physiology? Third, can we develop interventions that reliably reproduce the behavioral and neuronal changes that occur in response to differential rearing conditions? 

This work is done in close collaboration with the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, where work performed in this laboratory can be translated to the clinical level in conjunction with their clinical research. Our current efforts are to elucidate key genetic, metabolic, and environmental pathways that affect synaptic plasticity in key regions of the brain involved in both cognitive and emotional learning and neurodevelopment.

For these studies we employ a wide range of tools, including animal behavioral studies, basic molecular and cellular biological approaches, in-vivo (positron emission tomography) and ex-vivo (diffusion tensor imaging) approaches to whole brain imaging, tissue specific nuclear magnetic resonance selective control of gene expression in the central nervous system, sophisticated time lapse microscopy and advanced BioMEMs devices.

Examples of ongoing projects include:

  • Effect of differential sensory stimulation during rearing on behavior and wound healing
  • Effect of rearing conditions and changes in neuronal function on peripheral stress hormones
  • Functional brain imaging of brain changes during different rearing and physical stressors
  • Identification of protein and gene expression changes in the hippocampus that regulate the HPA axis
  • Effect of oxytocin on brain changes during differential rearing
Affiliated Faculty
Representative Publications
  1. Morrison III, Barclay, Benjamin S. Elkin, Jean-Pierre Dollé, and Martin L. Yarmush."In vitro models of traumatic brain injury." Annual review of biomedical engineering 13 (2011): 91-126.

  2. Vitalo, Antonia G., Sasikanth Gorantla, Jonathan G. Fricchione, John M. Scichilone, Jennifer Camacho, Steven M. Niemi, John W. Denninger, Herbert Benson, Martin L. Yarmush, and John B. Levine. "Environmental enrichment with nesting material accelerates wound healing in isolation-reared rats."Behavioural brain research 226, no. 2 (2012): 606-612.

  3. Bonab, A. A., J. G. Fricchione, S. Gorantla, A. G. Vitalo, M. E. Auster, S. J. Levine, J. M. Scichilone, M. Hedge, W. Foote, G.L. Fricchione, J.W. Denniger, D.M. Yarmush, A.J. Fischman, M.L. Yarmush, and J.B. Levine. "Isolation rearing significantly perturbs brain metabolism in the thalamus and hippocampus." Neuroscience 223 (2012): 457-464.

  4. Dollé, Jean-Pierre, Barclay Morrison III, Rene S. Schloss, and Martin L. Yarmush. "Brain-on-a-chip microsystem for investigating traumatic brain injury: Axon diameter and mitochondrial membrane changes play a significant role in axonal response to strain injuries." Technology 2, no. 02 (2014): 106-117.