Carnegie Mellon University

Gittis and Brasier Author Perspectives Piece in Science

By Jocelyn Duffy / 412-268-9982 /

Learning or changing a behavior relies on a coordinated network of communication and responses between the cells in the brain. Previously, researchers believed that this network was made only of neurons. A paper published in the August 14 issue of Science by researchers from Intituto Cajal and Instituto de Salud Carlos III in Madrid has shown that this network also may include other cells in the brain called astrocytes, and these astrocytes might help to regulate neuronal behavior.

In the journal, Carnegie Mellon BrainHub faculty Aryn H. Gittis and Daniel J. Brasier provide a commentary on the article’s importance to neuroscience, specifically to research on learning and motor function disorders.

“The work by Martin and colleagues shows that the cellular machinery responsible for changing behavior extends beyond the neurons to surrounding cells, revealing a new dimension of cellular specificity in the nervous system,” said Gittis, assistant professor of biological sciences at CMU. “It gives us a new perspective to the organizing principles of circuit assembly and dynamics.”

At CMU, Gittis studies the neural circuitry of the basal ganglia and how dysfunction in these circuits can lead to neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases and neuropsychiatric disorders like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and addiction. She is also a member of the joint CMU/University of Pittsburgh Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. Brasier, assistant teaching professor of biological sciences, focuses his research on biology and neuroscience education.

As the birthplace of artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology, Carnegie Mellon has been a leader in the study of brain and behavior for more than 50 years. The university has created some of the first cognitive tutors, helped to develop the Jeopardy-winning Watson, founded a groundbreaking doctoral program in neural computation, and completed cutting-edge work in understanding the genetics of autism. Building on its strengths in biology, computer science, psychology, statistics and engineering, CMU recently launched BrainHubSM, a global initiative that focuses on how the structure and activity of the brain give rise to complex behaviors.