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Understanding basal ganglia to fix problems in the brain

In the brain, the basal ganglia are part of a complex learning system that alerts the rest of the brain to what is rewarding and what is not. They also are at the root of a wide range of disorders, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease, depression and the formation of addictive behaviors. More importantly, the basal ganglia are the focus of James Tepper’s research.

Tepper, a distinguished professor of neuroscience, is working to uncover and map the inner workings of the basal ganglia to reveal the patterns of their neural circuitry that signal other parts of the brain.  "It's a bit like someone handing you a circuit without a circuit diagram," Tepper explains.  You need the diagram to find and fix problems –in the case of Parkinson’s, problems that result in movement disorders. His research is funded by a five-year, $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

James M. Tepper earned his B.A. in psychology, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in biological psychology from the University of Colorado, Boulder. He performed his post-doctoral research at the University of California, San Diego, where he focused his work on the structure and function of the basal ganglia. He joined the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience in 1987 as the first faculty member hired by Co-Directors Ian Creese and Paula Tallal, and in 2008 was appointed a distinguished professor. He is a fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science and past president of the International Basal Ganglia Society.

RESEARCH INTERESTS: basal ganglia, substantia nigra, striatum,interneurons, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, other basal ganglia disorders