Congratulations to Drs. Pozzo-Miller and King who have received a Research Experience for Undergraduates award from the National Science Foundation. This award will allow the Department of Neurobiology to host 10 students from outside of UAB for 10 weeks of summer research training and professional development.  Students who are interested in pursuing PhD training after their BS/BA should apply for the March 1, 2017 deadline.  The application is online now at:

The Civitan International Research Center is announcing the availability of trainee travel awards to facilitate presentations at meetings, conferences or symposia related to research and/or clinical activities addressing neurodevelopmental disabilities. Individual awards of up to $1000 will apply toward conference registration fees, airfare, hotel and meals according to UAB travel policy.

Application deadlines will be April 1 and September 1, 2017. 

Applications should include the following in a single pdf file:
·  a description of the travel opportunity and relationship to the trainee program of study
·  a one-page CV from the trainee 
·  a letter of endorsement from the mentor clearly stating how the student will benefit from participation and also that no other support is available for this travel
·  travel budget details
·  copy of abstract – include letter of acceptance 

The mission of the CIRC is to improve the well-being and the quality of life of individuals and families affected by neurodevelopmental disabilities; to provide interdisciplinary clinical and research training in neurodevelopmental disabilities; to utilize this knowledge to develop and provide high quality exemplary services and programs; and to exchange information in a timely way with consumers, practitioners, scientists, and society.

Submission guidelines:
Title the subject matter: Travel Application "Last name"  
Submit to:
Vicki Hixon

The Scientist - January 2017 Edition - Exploring Life, Inspiring Innovation

SCIENTIST TO WATCH Assistant Professor, University of Alabama at Birmingham. Age: 35
Jeremy Day: Reward  Researcher

As an undergraduate at Auburn University in the early 2000s, Jeremy Day was thinking of becoming an architect. But an opportunity to work on a research project investigating reward learning in rodents changed the course of his career. “It really hooked me,” he says. “It made me immediately wonder what mecha- nisms were underlying that behavior in the animal’s brain.”

It’s a question Day has pursued ever since. In 2004, he enrolled in a PhD program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and began studying neural reward signaling under the mentorship of neu- roscientist Regina Carelli. “He was a stellar student by all accounts,” Carelli recalls. “He was very clear on the type of work he wanted to do, even that early on in his career.” Focusing on the nucleus accum- bens, a brain region involved in associative learning, Day measured dopamine levels in rats undergoing stimulus-reward experiments. Although a rat’s brain released dopamine on receipt of a reward early in training, Day found that, as the rodent became accustomed to spe- cific cues predicting those rewards, this dopamine spike shifted to accompany the cues instead, indicating a changing role for the chemical during learning.1

Day completed his PhD in 2009, but realized that to better understand dopamine signaling and errors in the brain’s reward system that lead to addiction, he would need a broader skill set. “I had a strong background in systems neuroscience, but my training in molecular neuroscience was not as strong,” he explains. So he settled on “a field that I knew almost nothing about”—epigenetics—and joined David Sweatt’s lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) as a postdoc. For someone used to a field where “data come in as it’s happening,” Day says, “transitioning to a molecular lab where you might do an assay and you don’t get an answer for a week or two was a culture shock.”

Initially, Day investigated epigenetic modification in the nucleus accumbens. “The idea was that we’d block DNA methylation and see if we could also block learning,” he explains. But things didn’t go according to plan. “We worked on that for a couple of years and, basically, all the results from that experiment were negative.”

Instead of giving up, Day refocused. “He demonstrated a lot of perseverance,” recalls Sweatt. “It really took commitment and determination to stick with the project.” Leaving the nucleus accumbens, Day tried similar experiments in another site involved in dopaminergic pathways. “We found that if we blocked DNA methylation in that region, we could completely block an animal’s ability to learn about rewards,” Day says.2

In 2013, Day received a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that helped him set up as an assistant professor at UAB the following year. He has continued collaborating with Sweatt—now at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine—who calls his former postdoc “a rising star in the discipline.” In 2016, they published evidence that extra-coding RNAs—noncoding RNAs whose sequences overlap with protein- coding regions—help regulate neuronal DNA methylation in an activity-dependent   manner.3

Now, Day is most excited about CRISPR-Cas9’s potential to explore epigenetics in the brain. “For the first time, we have the ability to look at the causal role for these modifications in gene regulation, neural function, and behavior,” he says. “It’s a really fun time to be in the field.” J

REFERENCES 1. J.J. Day et al., “Associative learning mediates dynamic shifts in dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens,” Nat Neurosci, 10:1020-28, 2007. (Cited  359 times) 2. J.J. Day et al., “DNA methylation regulates associative reward learning,” Nat Neurosci, 16:1445-52, 2013. (Cited 82 times) 3.  K.E. Savell et al., “Extra-coding RNAs regulate neuronal DNA methylation dynamics,” Nat Commun, 7:12091, 2016. (Cited 1 time)
UAB part of global study of breathing issues in Rett syndrome
by Bob Shepard December 16, 2016

December 16, 2016 Print Email

December 16, 2016

UAB will study a drug originally developed for Parkinson’s disease that may help reduce breath holding in patients with Rett syndrome.

RS7983 alan percy 2009 6Pediatric neurologist Alan Percy, M.D., is a leading clinician and researcher into Rett Syndrome Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are part of the international STARS study to see if a drug originally developed for Parkinson’s disease might help reduce breathing issues common in patients with Rett syndrome. The drug, sarizotan, may help reduce the frequency of breath holding, a potentially significant effect of Rett syndrome.

“We often see Rett patients holding their breath for long periods of time, up to 30 seconds at a time, behavior that can go on for hours,” said Alan Percy, M.D., professor of neurology in the Department of Pediatrics, medical director of the UAB Civitan International Research Center and a leading Rett syndrome expert. “Patients often end up swallowing large amounts of air, which can have a very detrimental effect on nutrition, a major issue for Rett patients.”

The study, to be held in four sites in the United States and several international locations, is looking to enroll patients with Rett syndrome who are 13 years and older, have a body weight of at least 55 pounds and experience multiple episodes of breath holding while awake during the day.

Percy says UAB is looking to enroll 10-15 patients locally. Participants will be followed for one year.

“Breath holding can be quite disruptive in younger Rett patients, although it usually subsides in early adulthood,” Percy said. “We currently do not have an effective medication that addresses breath holding. This is the first multisite trial of a potential therapy.”

While its mechanism of action remains unclear, Percy says sarizotan may help prevent breath holding by activating serotonin 1a receptors in the brain stem.

“While this is certainly not curative for Rett syndrome, it could be disease modifying,” Percy said. “This has the potential to be an important drug, as breath holding can be very disruptive and distressing to the family.”

The National Institutes of Health defines Rett syndrome as a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects girls almost exclusively. It is characterized by normal early growth and development followed by a slowing of development, loss of purposeful use of the hands, distinctive hand movements, slowed brain and head growth, problems with walking, seizures, and intellectual disability.

The study is sponsored by Newron Pharmaceuticals U.S., Inc. Other study sites in the United States are the Altman Clinical and Translation Research Institute, University of California San Diego; Rush Medical University Center, Chicago; and Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston.
UAB’s Parpura invited to join Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives
by Bob Shepard - December 09, 2016 

Vlad 1
UAB neurobiology professor Vladimir Parpura becomes the second UAB faculty with membership in the Dana Alliance for Brain  Initiatives.

Vladimir Parpura, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Neurobiology ( in the School of Medicine( at the University of Alabama at Birmingham  (, has been invited to become a member of the Dana Alliance for  Brain Initiatives ( The Dana Alliance is a nonprofit organization  whose mission is to advance public education about the progress and benefits of brain research  and to disseminate information on the brain in an understandable and accessible fashion.   Parpura will be only the second member of the UAB faculty with membership in the Dana  Alliance, joining James MeadorWoodruff,  M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry. There are more than 550 neuroscientists worldwide in  the organization.

Outreach efforts of the Dana Alliance include organizing public forums such as an aging series targeted to older adults, facilitating speaking engagements, and supplementing K12 neuroscience curricula with publications and teaching materials through free, downloadable materials on the alliance website.  The alliance’s flagship event is the annual Brain Awareness Week Campaign, now in its 22nd  year. The upcoming campaign is March 1319,  2017.

Parpura earned his medical degree from the University of Zagreb in Croatia in 1989, and a  doctorate in neuroscience and zoology from Iowa State University in 1993. He was elected as a Member of Academia Europaea in 2012, and has held faculty appointments at Iowa State University, the University of California, Riverside, and the University of Rijeka, Croatia, before joining UAB.