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Behavior and Neuroscience Group

Impact of environmental exposures on the nervous system and behavior

Exposure to a broad range of environmental factors, from chemicals to diet to drugs of abuse, can alter neural development and cause long-term dysfunction. Our RIG members study these processes using an array of model systems, including rodents, fish, arthropods, nematodes, and organoids to better understand and prevent environmentally-driven disease.

Main goal: We strive to bring together faculty and trainees across campus who are interested in a wide range of neuroscience-related topics, with the goal of supporting innovative, collaborative, and translational research on the relationships between environmental exposures and the formation and function of the nervous system.

Group Leaders

Marsden, Kurt
Professor, Dept. of Biological Sciences
Email  |  Bio

Kurt’s lab is focused on defining how genetic and environmental factors impact neural development and behavior. Using zebrafish as a model system and an array of techniques including high-throughput behavior analysis, next generation sequencing, proteomics, and confocal microscopy, his group aims to uncover mechanisms that underlie neurodegenerative diseases like ALS as well as neurodevelopmental conditions like autism, epilepsy and CHARGE Syndrome. Kurt’s lab has also established collaborations with other groups at NCSU to study the impact of Vitamin D signaling and exposure to cadmium and mixtures of cyanotoxins on neural development. In taking on the leadership of the Behavior and Neuroscience RIG Kurt hopes to further foster a collaborative and broadly inclusive neuroscience community within CHHE and across NCSU to share expertise and resources and to support new funding efforts and trainee development.

Duque-Wilckens, Natalia
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Biological Sciences
Email | Lab Website

Dr. Duque-Wilckens’ lab investigates the neuroimmune mechanisms underlying resilience and susceptibility to develop psychopathology, and how this is impacted by current and emerging environmental stressors. Currently, the focus is mast cells. Mast cells are innate immune cells distributed throughout the body that have the capacity to respond to an extraordinary array of environmental and internal stimuli by selectively releasing pre-stored and/or newly synthesized mediators ranging from monoamines, such as histamine and serotonin, to cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors. Therefore, mast cells can act both as first responders but also long-lastingly modulate immune, neural, and endocrine adaptations to environmental stressors. Indeed, mast cells play a key role in xenobiotic-induced allergies and multisystemic symptomatology associated with chemical intolerance. Interestingly, while mast cells have mostly been studied in the context of peripheral inflammation, they are ubiquitous in the developing and adult intestinal mucosa (where they make intimate contact with vagal afferent nerve fibers), meninges, and brain, in species ranging from amphibians to mammals. This strongly suggests that mast cells play a fundamental role in the development and function of complex nervous systems, but this remains largely unexplored. Natalia’s lab uses a comprehensive approach that integrates behavioral, pharmacological, and novel genetic and molecular methodologies in both in vivo and in vitro settings with the overarching goal of elucidating the function of mast cells in the brain and how are they affected by environmental stressors.