Behavioral Neuromodulation

J.Willie in lab

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

  • Narcolepsy with cataplexy
  • Primary hypersomnia
  • Sleep disturbances associated with Parkinson’s disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Disorders of memory and attention
  • Mood disorders

The Bijanki-Willie Lab explores the use of deep brain stimulation, optogenetic approaches, and other novel focal therapies in animal models and human subjects 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, but the nonspecific effects of electrical stimulation in different brain regions can make the prediction of therapeutic benefits with respect to arousal challenging.  

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.