Javits Award funds neurology of animal movement study


ITHACA, N.Y. -- Ron Harris-Warrick, professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University, has been awarded the prestigious Sen. Jacob Javits Award in the Neurosciences, a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Harris-Warrick was cited for "his substantial contribution at the cutting edge of understanding the neural mechanism of motor behavior [and] in recognition of the potential for continual progress given his track record as a highly innovative and productive investigator." The award is for more than $3 million over seven years.

A member of the Cornell faculty since 1980, Harris-Warrick studies the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the activity of small neural networks in crustaceans, such as lobsters. These circuits, called central pattern generators, generate the sequences of commands for simple rhythmic movements. With the grant, he will study the neuronal mechanisms that allow an animal to generate flexible movements rather than robotic ones. His laboratory has found that modulatory neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, can reconfigure the central pattern generator network so that the same network can drive a variety of variants on a simple behavior.

"Studies of simple invertebrate neural circuits, such the stomatic gastric ganglia used in Dr. Harris-Warrick's lab, continue to provide surprising and informative insights into motor circuit flexibility and the mechanisms underlying homeostasis," said Daofen Chen, program director of systems and cognitive neuroscience at NINDS. "These studies continue to contribute valuable guidance to work in larger, less-well-characterized vertebrate circuitry, such as that for walking, in the human spinal cord."

Authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1983, the award honors the late U.S. Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.), who was a strong advocate for research on a variety of neurological disorders. Javits suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the disabling neurodegenerative disorder also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. A component of the National Institutes of Health, the NINDS is the nation's primary federal sponsor of research on the brain and nervous system.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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