School of Graduate Studies
Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Graduate Program
Offering PhD and MD/PhD degrees
The Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Graduate Program is based at the LSU Neuroscience
Center of Excellence, a multi-disciplinary center. The Neuroscience Center fosters
inter-actions and collaborations among neuroscientists and has created a rich and
stimulating environment for graduate education. In addition to pre-doctoral training,
post-doctoral training is also available.
The program offers pre-doctoral research training in fundamental neurosciences.
The program leads to a Ph.D. in neuroscience and is offered by faculty members from
twelve departments of the Health Sciences Center and the University of New Orleans.
The breadth of research programs of the faculty encompasses all major areas of human
cellular and molecular neurosciences, including the neurobiology of disease. Training
is designed to provide students a broad, general knowledge of neuroscience along with
more intensive training in a highly specialized topic for academic and/or industrial
research or teaching positions. Specific faculty research interests are listed at
the beginning of the next column.
Nicolas G. Bazan, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Boyd Professor, Ernest C. and Yvette C. Villere Chair of Ophthalmology,
Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Neurology, Chair; Executive Research
Council - Translational Research Initiative LSUHSC
The unraveling of survival cell signaling in experimental epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson's,
Alzheimer's and retinal degenerations are investigated in this laboratory by applying
a multidisciplinary approach using primary cell culture, transgenic and knock-out
animals, molecular biology and mediator lipidomics strategies. This research focuses
on novel signaling pathways of essential fatty acids and platelet-activating factor.
Dr. N. Bazan and his colleagues have found novel neuronal survival pathways as new
therapeutic experimental targets. The goal is to ultimately translate into the clinic
the mechanisms identified in the basic neuroscience laboratory.
Drs. Haydee E.P. Bazan,
Jeffrey Erickson and Chunlai Wu
Haydee E.P. Bazan, Ph.D.
Professor, Ophthalmology, Bio-chemistry & Molecular Biology and Neuroscience
Molecular mechanisms of inflammation, cornea wound healing and dry eye. The studies
target mechanisms of neuroregeneration relevant to understanding and treating complications
generated by corneal nerve damage. A multifacated approach is used in the laboratory
that includes corneal surgery in animal models, genetic models, functional tests,
cell culture, lipidomic analysis, and molecular and cell biology approaches.
Ludmila Belayev, M.D.
Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology and Neuroscience
Development and evaluation of animal models of stroke, traumatic brain injury,
behavior, MRI, immunohistochemistry, image analysis and neuroprotection.
Chu Chen, Ph.D.
Professor, Neuroscience and Otorhinolaryngology
Dr. Chen's research programs focus on neuroinflammation in health and disease. His
laboratory employs multiple approaches, including electrophysiological recordings,
molecular biology analyses, optical imaging, and behavioral tests to address fundamental
mechanisms underlying inflammation in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's
disease (AD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI)-induced chronic traumatic encephalopathy
(CTE), an AD-like neurodegenerative disease. We are particularly interested in endogenous
and exogenous cannabinoids in physiology and neurodegenerative diseases and developing
novel therapeutic approaches for prevention and treatment of these devastating diseases.
Several projects are currently undergoing to elucidate molecular and epigenetic
mechanisms responsible for endocannabinoid signaling in neuroinflammation, neuroprotection,
synaptic plasticity, learning and memory.
Jeffrey Erickson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Pharmacology and Neuroscience
Synaptic vesicle transport proteins: molecular and cellular biology of vesicular neurotransmitter
transporters. Recent work from our laboratory indicates that vesicular glutamate transporter
VGLUT1 does more than just control quantal size. VGLUT1 interacts with adaptor proteins
involved in vesicle endocytosis and possibly even exocytosis to modulate vesicle release
probability. This has broad implications for synaptic plasticity of cortical excitatory
neurons in physiologic and pathologic states.
Hamilton Farris, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, School of Medicine
Associate Professor - Research, Otorhinolaryngology and Neuroscience
Research focus: the underlying neural mechanisms that mediate sensory acuity. The
lab uses the methodologies of psychophysics and neurophysiology. Our overall goal
is to understand how pathologies of attention (e.g., deficit, schizophrenia) affect
Sonia Gasparini, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor,Research, Cell Biology & Anatomy, and Neuroscience
Dendritic excitability and synaptic integration in hippocampal and entorhinal
cortex neurons. We use electrophysiological techniques (dendritic and somatic recordings)
combined with multiphoton imaging and uncaging to study how synaptic inputs arriving
to a neuron are integrated to generate an output. Our ultimate goal is to understand
how information is processed and stored in the brain regions that are essential for
Drs. XiaoChing Li, William Gordon
William C. Gordon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Research, Ophthalmology and Neuroscience
Cell biology of retina under normal and pathological conditions; neuronal cell death
and neuroprotection. Our laboratory uses an integrative approach, combining histology
at the light and electron microscope levels, immuno-localization, auto-radiography,
and electronic monitoring of retinal health with electroretinographic and optical
coherence tomographic methods. These are applied to our rodent models of blinding
eye diseases which include age-related macular degeneration (laser-induced choroidal
neo-vascularization) and retinitis pigmentosa (transgenic animals which contain mutated
human genes linked to photoreceptor death). Experimental approaches include enhancement
of in-house protective mechanisms and/or blockade of discrete steps within the cell
Jiucheng He, M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Research, Ophthalmology and Neuroscience
Mechanisms of corneal wound healing and nerve regeneration after injury.
The roles of stromal cells and corneal nerves in maintaining corneal transparency
Song Hong, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Ophthalmology, Neuroscience, and Lipid biochemistry and Biology
To delineate lipidomic pathways and associated signaling mechanisms that regulate
inflammation, angio-genesis, fibrosis, wound re-innervation and healing, neuropathy,
retinopathy, and nephropathy in diabetes. To provide new targets for the development
of better treatment of diabetic complications, retinal degeneration, and choroid neovascularization.
Minghao Jin, V.M.D., Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology and Neuroscience
We use gene expression cloning and knockout approaches to identify the molecular mechanisms
that regulate the visual cycle and photoreceptor survival in normal and diseased retinas.
The visual cycle is a biochemical pathway essential for regenerating the visual pigments
that function not only as the light-sensor but also as the structural component of
the light-sensing organelles in the photoreceptor neurons. Dysfunction and dysregulation
of the visual cycle are associated with vision loss and retinal degenerative diseases
such as Leber's congenital amaurosis, retinitis pigmentosa, Stargardt disease and
age-related macular degeneration.
Bok Kyoo Jun, Ph.D.
I am interested in precisely defining and characterizing the lipids that comprise
the brain and retina. We know that at the onset of brain disease and retinal degeneration
the component lipids begin undergoing changes, where some disappear, some are reduced,
some increase, and some appear for the first time.
My research is centered around mass spectrometry. I extract the lipids of interest
and analyze them by conventional mass spectrometry or by MALDI (imaging) mass spectrometry.
I have access to two colonies of mice that have been genetically altered so that they
now have characteristics of two blinding eye diseases, Age-related macular degeneration
(AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
Jennifer Lentz, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor, Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Biocommunications
The overall goal of my research is to develop a therapeutic approach to prevent
or cure the deafness and blindness associated with Usher syndrome (Usher), the most
common genetic cause of combined deafness and blindness. Currently, there are 3 clinical
sub-types of Usher syndrome based on the severity and age of onset of deafness and
blindness, and in some patients, the presence of vestibular areflexia (balance disorder).
Genetically, there are 12 known genes associated with Usher syndrome; 6 for Usher
type 1, 3 for Usher type 2, and 2 for Usher type 3. At LSUHSC-NO we focus on Usher
syndrome type 1C, which affects the Acadian populations of south Louisiana and Canada.
Approximately 6-8% of type 1 Usher cases are caused by mutations in the USH1C gene,
which encodes the protein harmonin. The USH1C.216G>A (216A) mutation accounts for
all cases of Usher 1 in Acadian populations. My laboratory created a mouse model of
USH1C by knocking-in the 216A mutation responsible for the combined deafness, blindness
and vestibular dysfunction in an Acadian patient of south Louisiana. My laboratory
uses this Usher mouse model to understand the underlying mechanisms that lead to the
dual sensory loss associated with Usher syndrome, and to develop therapies aimed at
preventing or curing deafness and blindness.
XiaoChing Li, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Cell Biology & Anatomy, and Neuroscience
Songbirds provide a unique model system for integrative studies of developmental neural
plasticity and vocal learning, because both song behavior and the underlying neural
circuitry are tractable. As with language learning in human infants, juvenile zebra
finches learn to sing from an adult tutor during a developmentally restricted sensitive
period. During this time, a series of molecular, cellular, and behavioral events,
including gene expression, neurogenesis, neuronal differentiation, circuit formation,
and sensory/motor learning, unfold in a well-orchestrated temporal order. The interplay
between an innate developmental program and sensory/motor learning experience eventually
gives rise to a learned song.
We are interested in:
1) the dynamic genomic programs underlying the successive stages of song circuit
development in songbirds and,
2) how the intrinsic genomic programs interact with learning experience to shape
a neural circuit and give raise to its behavior output. Multidisciplinary Multidisciplinary
approaches are used in our research, which include genomics and system biology analysis
of gene and miRNA expression and behavioral manipulation of sensory/motor learning
Walter J. Lukiw, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Ophthalmology, Genetics and Neuroscience
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), Alzheimer's disease (AD), bioinformatics,
brain aging, brain-specific gene transcription, DNA arrays, gene expression analysis
and profiling, memory acquisition and storage, messenger RNA (mRNA) speciation, micro
RNA (miRNA) complexity, neurofilaments, neurotoxicology (focus on aluminum, copper,
iron, lead and mercury), normal brain aging, schizophrenia, synaptogenesis, synaptic
plasticity and the primary culture of human brain cells. My laboratory's main research
focus is on furthering our understanding of the regulation of human brain-specific
gene expression in health and disease, and on the role that chromatin structure, epigenetics,
neurotoxic metals, transcription factors and micro RNAs affect this process.
Janet Rossi, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Section of Critical Care and Neuroscience
Cerebral Edema is a common complication of many different diseases in the Pediatric
Intensive Care Unit. Multiple different pathways are involved in the development of
cerebral edema for example immunology, neuroendocrine, metabolic, cardiovascular,
neurologic, signal transduction, cytoskeletal organization, DNA replication and repair
are just a few of the pathways that contribute to the development of cerebral edema
with different levels of contributions depending on the underlying cause of the cerebral
edema. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is one disease process that develops cerebral
edema in children but begins with all systems in homeostasis before the injury. The
injury then sets in motion alterations in every pathway, culminating in the development
of cerebral edema resulting in neurological decline and life long deficits. Using
a closed head mouse model of pediatric TBI we are investigating the stimulus leading
to the disruption of pathways leading to cerebral edema. Understanding the stimulus
that disrupts multiple pathways will lead to identifying potential targets for repair.
Xiaolin Tian, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor-Research, Cell Biology and Anatomy and Neuroscience
Cellular degradation pathways help maintain cell homeostasis and promote normal development,
differentiation and aging. Malfunction in the clearance mechanisms contributes to
a range of human diseases including neural developmental and neurodegenerative disorders.
The goal of my research is to understand how lysosome-mediated autophagy and ubiquitin
proteasome system, the two major cellular clearance mechanisms, promote the development
and degeneration of our nervous system.
Chunlai Wu, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Cell Biology & Anatomy, and Neuroscience
We combine the powerful fly genetics with proteomic and biochemical approaches to
understand the mechanisms underlying learning and memory, mental retardation and age-related
neural disorders such as Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's Disease. Key words: Fly disease model, ubiquitination, proteomics
Yuhai Zhao, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor/Research, Neuroscience, Cell Biology and Anatomy
Adult hippocampal neurogenesis is vital to the maintenance and plasticity of cognitive
functions such as learning, memory and emotion. Mounting evidence suggests that loss
of normal adult hippocampal neurogenesis is implicated in the cognitive impairment
in AD. Restoration of hippocampal neurogenesis helps improve cognitive function in
AD mice models. Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway is an important regulating mechanism
for the adult hippocampal neurogenesis. We have recently identified significant upregulation
of a specific inhibitor of Wnt-β-catenin pathway in AD. In the meantime, through array
analysis and algorithm calculation a miRNA linked to that inhibitor gene was also
discovered. This research will focus on the interplay between miRNA and hippocampal
neurogenesis and how this may be implicated in AD pathology and behavioral dysfunction.
The core program includes neuroscience courses (medical neuroscience, investigative
neuroscience, molecular neuro-biology, and synaptic organization of the brain) and
related courses (cell biology, biochemistry, and molecular biology). Rotation through
faculty laboratories is required and provides students with research experience from
the beginning of their tenure. Students participate in neuroscience seminars and colloquia,
Neuroscience Center retreats, and other science activities sponsored by the LSU Health
Sciences Center. Students are encouraged to become actively involved in the Greater
New Orleans Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience.
Sir John Vane,
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1982
"for his work on aspirin and the subsequent discovery of prostacyclin"
and Dr. Nicolas G. Bazan
The faculty laboratories are located in modern buildings with state-of-the-art equipment.
In addition, the Health Sciences Center Core Laboratory, which is a service facility,
provides oligonucleotide and peptide synthesis and sequencing, amino acid analysis
and purification, mass spectrometry, flow cytometry, transgenic facility, gene microarray,
two-photon and confocal microscopy, and phospho-imaging. Equipment for high-speed
sequencing of DNA is also available.
Extensive library facilities are available at the Isché Health Sciences Library
of the Health Sciences Center and the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New
Orleans. A comprehensive Computer Services Center is available on campus.
Drs. Carmen Canavier and Chu Chen
Graduate stipends are available from the Neuroscience Center, individual departments,
and the LSU Health Sciences Center Graduate School. Supplements can be obtained from
faculty grants and other sources for those students who are highly qualified. Students
will compete for fellowships from NIH, NSF, and the Howard Hughes Foundation. Students
who are selected to receive stipends are not required to pay tuition but are responsible
for activity fees.
Drs. Joseph Moerschbaecher and Nicolas G. Bazan presenting
an award and plaque to Dr. Bengt Samuelson,
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1982
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree or the equivalent thereof. Students should
have taken courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and computer science.
The General Test of the Graduate Record Examinations is required (see application information), and the Subject Test in any area of science is recommended. Admission is determined
by test scores, written recommendations, a written statement of interests and goals,
and a personal interview.
Approximately 110 students are enrolled in the LSU Health Sciences Center Graduate
School, of whom 15-20 are enrolled in the neuroscience program.
Dr. Edmond Fischer,
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1992, presenting his
Chancellor's Award Lecture in Neuroscience
The LSU Health Sciences Center is near the heart of historic downtown New Orleans,
within 10 minutes of the French Quarter. Exciting yearly events in New Orleans include
Mardi Gras and the Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The city is famous for its jazz, cuisine, and cultural activities, such as the
symphony, museums, and opera. The city is located only 90 minutes from the Gulf of
Mexico; the subtropical climate permits a variety of year-round activities. The New
Orleans metropolitan area has a population of approximately 1.2 million and has five
Living and Housing
The cost of living in the New Orleans area is generally below the national average.
A recently remodeled dormitory with an exercise area and health facility is available
on the Health Sciences Center campus. Living accommodations are also available in
the historic Garden District, Uptown, and the Warehouse District, all of which offer
distinctive Greek Revival and Victorian architecture.
Additional accommodations can also be found throughout the city at a reasonable
cost. Health care is available on campus through the Student Health Center of the
LSU Medical School.
Dr. Marshall W. Nirenberg,
Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine, 1968
"for deciphering the genetic code"
(shared with Gobind Khorana & Robert Holley)
with Neuroscience Center of Excellence Students
Nicolas G. Bazan, M.D., Ph.D.
Neuroscience Center of Excellence
2020 Gravier Street, Suite D,
New Orleans, Louisiana 70112