Van Horn-2

Illustration showing how white matter fiber tracts are distorted in the presence of intracerebral hemorrhage. (Van Horn Lab)

Van Horn-1

Illustration of various tissue types of the human head and brain including skin, skull, grey matter, white matter, in addition to hemorrhage and edema associated with traumatic brain injury. (Van Horn Lab)


Transgene labeling of brainstem autonomic neurons on the fetal mouse. (Levitt Lab)


Localization of synaptogenesis transcripts in developing neurons. (Levitt Lab)

Zingg (3)

Section through mouse brain showing cell bodies and axons associated with neural tracer injections in various parts of the brain. Photo provided by NGP Student Brian Zingg.

Zingg (2)

Fluorescently labeled thalamic (red) and brainstem (green) projecting neurons in mouse auditory cortex. Photo provided by NGP Student Brian Zingg.

Shih Lab

Our recent publication shows that MAO A mediates prostate tumorigenesis and cancer. (Shih Lab)

Student conducting research in Dr. Dion Dickman's Lab

Dickman Lab

A computer simulation displaying a map of sensory space within the brain. While maps of sensory space are ubiquitous in the brain, computer simulations can be used to study the map formation problem. In the figure, color indicates the orientation turning preference of each neuron; gray lines highlight the distortion between the physical neuron locations of the brain surface and the location of the cell’s preferred stimulus in the visual field (colored dot). Figure provided by Rishabh Jain. (Mel Lab)

A perfect image of a drosophila brain staining. Image provided by Hui Yang. (Dickman Lab)


Students and faculty in the USC Neuroscience Graduate Program come from a variety of academic backgrounds to study questions spanning the entire spectrum of modern neuroscience research. Key questions include:

  • how do molecules work together in time and space to build functioning nerve cells?
  • how do individual neurons and their interconnections lead to the emergent properties of neural circuits?
  • how do the information processing functions of neural circuits lead to complex behaviors, memories, emotions, and thought?

Departing from the traditional focus on individual disciplines, USC Neuroscience is characterized by collaborative interactions between faculty and students who have undergraduate or graduate degrees in biology, engineering, mathematics, computer science, psychology, neuroscience, molecular biology, behavior, cell biology, genetics and other disciplines.  They work at many different levels of analysis, including research on cell-molecular neurobiology, systems-level analysis of normal and disrupted neural circuits due to disease, neural engineering, and cognitive and computational neuroscience.

When combined with a varied curriculum, weekly seminars, an annual graduate student symposium, and an extremely active neuroscience graduate student forum, the USC Neuroscience Graduate Program provides a highly supportive, research-intensive training experience designed to prepare students for a variety of successful careers.

August 18, 2014

Eisenberg Lab: Medical Team performs auditory brainstem implant surgery on child.

A Los Angeles team of scientists and surgeons from Keck Medicine of USC, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Huntington Medical Research Institutes (HMRI) reported that sound registered in the brain of a deaf Canadian boyfor the first time after doctors activated a hearing device that had been surgically implanted in his brainstem.

Auguste Majkowski, 3, is the first child in the United States to undergo an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) surgery in a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved trial supported by a National Institutes of Health clinical trial grant. On June 12, six weeks after surgery at CHLA, the device was activated with positive results at the Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery clinic at Keck Medicine of USC.“It was magical,” said Sophie Gareau, the child’s mother. “He’s a tough kid.”


Breaking the ‘sound barrier’

The surgery, device activation and future behavioral study are part of a five-year clinical trial in which 10 devices will be implanted in deaf children under the age of 5 and studied over the course of three years. The Los Angeles study, co-led by audiologist Laurie Eisenberg and surgeon Eric Wilkinson is the only in the United States to be supported by the NIH.

“Our Los Angeles-based team has been at the forefront of ABI technology development since it came into use in the late 1970s for adults, so it is especially gratifying to help break the ‘sound barrier’ once again; this time, for children who previously could not hear,” said Eisenberg, a professor of otolaryngology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “Surgeons outside the United States have been doing ABI surgeries in children for 10 years, but there has never been a formal safety or feasibility study under regulatory oversight. Our team is writing the manuals for all the procedures for this technology, and we have a top-notch multidisciplinary team in place to carry out the research.”

The surgical team that performed the operation at CHLA included Wilkinson, HMRI research scientist and neurotologist at the House Clinic; HMRI research scientist and House Clinic neurosurgeon Marc Schwartz and pediatric neurosurgeon Mark Krieger of Division of Neurosurgery at CHLA. Attending the surgery was Vittorio Colletti of the University of Verona Hospital in Italy, who has performed the most ABI surgeries on children overseas and is a collaborator on the study.

The study’s goal is to establish safety and efficacy protocols for the surgery and subsequent behavioral mapping procedures that doctors in the United States can then later use once the surgery is approved for children in the United States.

“Hundreds of children in the U.S. can benefit from ABI surgery,” said Krieger, who also is associate professor of clinical neurological surgery at the Keck School of Medicine. “These children would otherwise never hear or develop verbal speech in their lives.”

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August 18, 2014

Newly established USC-Taiwan Center for Translational Research

USC-Taiwan center for translational research

Center supported by Trustee Daniel Tsai. Founding Director: Dr. Jean Chen Shih.


The USC School of Pharmacy has established of a center for translational research that will take advantage of our internationally-recognized research and facilities to develop a strategic relationship with Taiwan involving exchange of trainees, research and experience. The focus of this center is the creation of a nexus of effective research in development of new therapeutics targeted to monoamine oxidase. The center will be based in the USC School of Pharmacy under the leadership of Dr. Jean Chen Shih, an internationally recognized expert in monoamine signaling. Dr. Shih will be assisted by an Advisory Board, including the USC School of Pharmacy Vice Dean for Research and Graduate Affairs and the USC School of Pharmacy Associate Dean for Global Initiatives, to both ensure the success of the center, and to ensure appropriate coordination with existing USC graduate and international programs so that the fellowship experience will be maximized.
Center activities will begin with the establishment of Fellowships that will enable leading graduate students and postdoctoral trainees from Taiwan and USC to work together side-by-side. Fellows will spend one to two years in USC School of Pharmacy laboratories, receiving training in cutting-edge techniques and novel research programs that will allow them to contribute to effective translational research for the development of the next generation of therapeutics. Fellows will be Named Fellows in Translational Research to reflect the prestigious
nature of these appointments.

Research activity at the USC-Taiwan center for translational research will focus on the use of MAO inhibitors in the treatment of cancer; recent work from Dr. Shih’s laboratory has shown that elimination of the gene that encodes monoamine oxidase (MAO) prevents the growth of prostate cancer in mice. As MAO is an important regulator of mood and motivation in the brain, there are already a number of drugs that effectively inhibit its function, called MAOI (MAO inhibitors), which are used clinically as antidepressants. Further collaboration with Dr. Leland Chung and Dr. Bogdan Olenyuk will attach the MAO I to a specific dye molecule that will target the drug specifically to cancer cells, thus increasing its effectiveness and reducing unwanted side-effects. Moreover, this dye is visible, and will thus be developed as the first non-invasive tool both for monitoring the progression of the cancer and for therapeutic treatment.

Additional research in this area of study will include applying these findings to other difficult-to-treat cancers, such as Glioblastoma (GBM). Collaboration with Dr. Tom Chen, Director of Surgical Neuro-Oncology Program at USC Keck School of Medicine will design, test and develop a revolutionary, novel treatment for GBM based on our established technology platform that involves MAOIs conjugated to tumor-targeting dyes. This effort by the center will bring together state-of-the-art expertise in biochemistry, imaging and nanomedicine to develop drugs targeted to monoamine oxidase that will inhibit tumor growth more effectively and more tolerably than current therapies and will also function to provide world-class training and global education to the fellows. The creation of this center is made possible through the support of a generous donor.

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