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Neuroscience Institute Postdoc Receives Fellowship Award to Study Circadian Rhythms

ATLANTA - Dr. James Walton, a postdoctoral fellow working in the laboratory of Dr. Elliott Albers in the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at Georgia State University, has been awarded a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health.

During the three-year fellowship, Walton will explore the basic functioning of the master circadian clock, a small group of nerve cells in the brain that serve to coordinate and synchronize daily rhythms of behavioral, physical and mental changes with environmental light-dark cycles.

The body's master circadian clock is contained within the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is a brain region just above where the optic nerves coming in from the eyes cross, just over the roof of the mouth. Understanding how the SCN processes light information coming in through the eyes to set the clock, through a process called entrainment, is essential to understanding the mechanisms underlying circadian disruptions that contribute to disorders such as jet lag, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, cancer, autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

In the SCN, all of the neurons produce the neurotransmitter GABA. However, GABA seems to have paradoxical effects on entrainment in the SCN given that its effects during the day are the opposite of those at night. Walton's research will investigate this phenomenon and focus on the interactions among the different kinds of GABA receptors in the SCN and how they change across the day.

Because many of the medications used to treat diseases ranging from anxiety disorders to epilepsy target the GABA system, it is important to have a clearer understanding of exactly how GABA acts in the brain.

"These studies will provide new information on GABA signaling and the interactions among its receptor subtypes that may be relevant to the action of GABA throughout the central nervous system," Walton said.

Dr. Walton received a PhD in neuroscience from Ohio State University in 2013. While there, he studied the effects of seasonal changes in day length on behavior and plasticity in the brain structure and function of white-footed mice. After graduation, Dr. Walton was recruited to work in the laboratory of Dr. Elliott Albers to study circadian rhythms to develop a more complete understanding of the neuroscience underlying biological rhythms. For more information on the research being conducted in the Albers lab, visit The Kirschstein-NRSA Postdoctoral Fellowship is designed to enhance the research training of promising postdoctoral fellows possessing the potential to become productive, independent investigators in scientific health-related research fields relevant to the missions of NIH.




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