Rosalind Franklin University researcher receives $ 1.95 million grant to study how neural networks develop and maintain focus


“We hope that the findings from this study on the principles of rapid network focusing will help advance new approaches to treating or preventing decline in cognitive function in old age and disease,” said Dr. Frost, electrophysiologist, professor and chair holder of cell biology and anatomy.

Dr. Frost and his team are among the pioneers of scientists who use large-scale recordings to observe how neurons interact and participate in networks to process information, store memory, and generate behavior. The grant will allow them to test their hypothesis that the variable network participation of neurons, even when presented with identical inputs, is an adaptive characteristic that reflects a “focusing mechanism” inherent in many networks. They theorize that focusing enables networks to quickly and flexibly rearrange which neurons should process certain information in the context of the moment.

“We hope to uncover the mechanisms underlying what may be an important versatility process for healthy function in many brain networks – one that allows them to quickly remap neurons to suit a particular context,” said Dr. Frost, author of more than 50 peer-reviewed articles on neural networks and related topics.

The hypothesis arose unexpectedly from the large-scale recordings of the team of the rhythmic escape swimming network of the marine mollusc Tritonia diomedea. In the first few seconds of responding to an unexpected aversive sensory input, Tritonia’s swim motor program quickly tunes itself, drawing many initially mute neurons into the bursting population and driving away others, apparently optimizing itself for escape. The researchers observed that this focused state lingered for several minutes as a reminder for the stimulus and enabled a stronger, faster onset motor program if the same stimulus was repeated.

Many studies in vertebrate animals have reported rapid growth in the size of responsive networks with repeated stimulation, but the mechanisms and purpose of such phenomena are poorly understood.

“Mechanisms of Stimulus-Induced Network Focusing,” a five-year NIH R01 grant, was awarded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS).

Dr. Frost is also the recipient of a three year old, $ 600,000 NIH Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) is subcontracted to develop the first transgenic mollusc model for neuroscientific research. While the award ended in August 2021, the work of the Five Lab team will continue with a free extension until August 2022 University of Massachusetts, Harvard University, the University of California San Diego and the University of Maryland.

Twenty million Americans and 16% of households have some form of brain or neurological disease, according to the United Brain Association. One in five adults in the US has a mental illness, reports the National Alliance on Mental Health. Neurological and mental illnesses often overlap and many of these illnesses do not have effective treatment. The annual economic impact is more than $ 800 billion.

“We are grateful for the support of the NIH and programs like that BRAIN initiativeas our neuroscientists and labs employ cutting edge tools that enable us to gain a deeper understanding of how the brain functions in health and disease, “said RFU Executive Vice President for Research Ronald Kaplan, Dr. “We are driven by the novel research that is going on in our Brain Science Institute and its three centers, including Dr. Frost’s area of ​​brain function and repair.”

About Rosalind Franklin University
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science strives to serve the population through the interprofessional training of health and biomedical professionals and the discovery of knowledge to improve wellbeing. The university embodies the spirit of research and the excellence of its namesake Dr. Rosalind Franklin, whose photo 51 was crucial for the elucidation of the DNA structure. Recognized for its research in areas such as neuroscience, brain-related disorders, hereditary diseases, diabetes, obesity, and gait and balance, RFU includes the Chicago Medical School, the College of Health Professions, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies and the Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine, and plans for a College of Nursing are moving forward. Learn more at

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