Behavioral Neuromodulation

J.Willie in lab

The mission of the Laboratory for Behavioral Neuromodulation is to develop novel surgical interventions to treat neurological and psychiatric disorders including:

  • Psychiatric comorbidities to epilepsy
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Disorders of memory and attention
  • Narcolepsy with cataplexy
  • Primary hypersomnia
  • Sleep disturbances associated with Parkinson’s disease

The Willie-Bijanki Lab explores the use of deep brain stimulation, optogenetic approaches, and other novel focal therapies in human subjects and animal models to treat aspects of these disabling neurological conditions. 

Background & Significance:

Willie Lab HomepageDeep brain stimulation (DBS) is a well-established neurosurgical approach to movement disorders, drug-resistant depression and epilepsy. In general, this treatment involves delivery of small electrical currents through implanted electrodes to focal brain circuits to modulate brain cell activity and resulting symptoms or behavior. DBS is a safe and effective intervention for certain conditions that are refractory to medications, and when applied in epilepsy patients with temporarily-implanted electrodes, it can provide novel insights into the function of a wide variety of limbic structures, with implications for mood, memory, arousal, and pain.  

Optogenetics represents another approach to modulating brain function. Optogenetic techniques utilize the expression of genetically modified light-responsive proteins in select brain cells or nuclei. Light delivery, rather than electrical stimulation, into an area of the brain can therefore provide a more selective neuronal activation or inhibition. Such tools provide greater experimental control, but therapeutic applications remain to be proven. We will use optogenetic tools to test the therapeutic potential of modulating neuronal activity to regulate arousal. Better understanding of the effects of optogenetic regulation will improve selection of new brain targets for DBS.