Welcome to the Department of Neuroscience

Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. It is an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics, medicine and allied disciplines, philosophy, physics, and psychology.  The Department of Neuroscience is committed to providing excellence in research, education, and public service.

The Department of Neuroscience is part of the University of Minnesota's Medical School. The Medical School and related healthcare professional schools are grouped under the Academic Health Center.

Department of Neuroscience News

A little light therapy

Loss of vision due to retinopathy is one of the long-term and potentially disabling complications of diabetes. A degenerative disorder, it sneaks up gradually.

Diabetic retinopathy happens when blood vessels in the retina are damaged, and it is commonly found among people who have had diabetes, particularly those who are insulin-dependent, for at least 10 years.

But what triggers diabetic retinopathy? University of Minnesota neuroscientist Eric Newman, Ph.D., thinks he knows. And in a new project that’s received initial funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), he’s investigating whether a simple change in lighting could help to combat it.

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Redish's Rats' Regrets

New research from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota reveals that rats show regret, a cognitive behavior once thought to be uniquely and fundamentally human. Research findings were recently published in Nature Neuroscience.

To measure the cognitive behavior of regret, A. David Redish, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience in the University of Minnesota Department of Neuroscience, and Adam Steiner, a graduate student in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience, who led the study, started from the definitions of regret that economists and psychologists have identified in the past.   

“Regret is the recognition that you made a mistake, that if you had done something else, you would have been better off,” said Redish. “The difficult part of this study was separating regret from disappointment, which is when things aren’t as good as you would have hoped. The key to distinguishing between the two was letting the rats choose what to do.”

Redish and Steiner developed a new task that asked rats how long they were willing to wait for certain foods. “It’s like waiting in line at a restaurant,” said Redish. “If the line is too long at the Chinese food restaurant, then you give up and go to the Indian food restaurant across the street.”  

In this task, which they named “Restaurant Row,” the rat is presented with a series of food options but has limited time at each “restaurant.”

Research findings show rats were willing to wait longer for certain flavors, implying they had individual preferences. Because they could measure the rats’ individual preferences, Steiner and Redish could measure good deals and bad deals. Sometimes, the rats skipped a good deal and found themselves facing a bad deal. 

“In humans, a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex is active during regret. We found in rats that recognized they had made a mistake, indicators in the orbitofrontal cortex represented the missed opportunity. Interestingly, the rat’s orbitofrontal cortex represented what the rat should have done, not the missed reward. This makes sense because you don’t regret the thing you didn’t get, you regret the thing you didn’t do,” said Redish.

Redish adds that results from Restaurant Row allow neuroscientists to ask additional questions to better understand why humans do things the way they do. By building upon this animal model of regret, Redish believes future research could help us understand how regret affects the decisions we make.

Link to article in Science

Link to article in Wired

A key to Parkinson's

The $50 billion spent annually on Parkinson's and a sister disease is second only to the $172 billion spent on Alzheimer's disease.

No wonder University of Minnesota neuroscientist Michael K. Lee is excited about finding what may be the key to how Parkinson's disease kills neurons. He and his colleagues have discovered that a protein normally present in brain tissue can form clumps inside neurons, which may poison the cells.  

They also found that at least one drug can relieve both the protein clumping and the symptoms in animal models of Parkinson's disease. The work was published in March in the Journal of Neuroscience.

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How age affects the brain

A first of its kind study aims to answer the questions what makes us age and how aging affects the brain. 

Apostolos Georgopoulos, Medical School, talks about studying healthy brains with a MEG, which takes an undistorted, highly detailed image of brain activity.

Congratulations to Dr. Letourneau

Congratulations to Professor Paul Letourneau!  Seven articles have been written which will appear in the Journal of Developmental Neurobiology. This is a special section of articles devoted to his research, in honor of the beginning of his 65th year.