• A
  • A
  • A

Spotlight on Our Neurosciences Institute Scientists


The Neurosciences Institute is home to more than 70 research laboratories with over 230 faculty dedicated to the study of various neurological and psychiatric disorders and diseases. Take a moment to meet our scientists featured here to gain insights and learn about their fascinating research projects that are currently underway here at Stony Brook. We'll be spotlighting more scientists along the way, so check back in again soon.

Joshua L. Plotkin, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior

Member, Center for Affective Neuroscience of Depression and Anxiety (CANDA)

Josh Plotkin, PhD, a neurobiologist, received his undergraduate degrees in biology and music from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He earned his PhD in neuroscience from University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Plotkin was also a postdoctoral scholar at UCLA and then at Northwestern University before joining the faculty of Stony Brook University in 2015 as Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior.

Focus of the Plotkin Lab: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

At any given moment, our brain is confronted with the daunting task of sorting through a plethora of potential actions that can be performed. Some of these actions are useful and appropriate, and should be green lit. Others are inappropriate, and must be suppressed. The brain has several strategies to streamline this process, one being habit learning. Through repetition, the brain can learn to initiate an automatic response based on what has worked in the past and what has not. The inability to properly do this is at the crux of many neurological disorders – perhaps most notably, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Our lab’s research focuses on the part of the brain most intimately associated with this type of action selection and habit learning: the basal ganglia. The major input nucleus of the basal ganglia, the striatum, is charged with receiving massive amounts of information from wildly diverse parts of the brain. The striatum sorts and integrates this synaptic information and then passes it on to the output nuclei of the basal ganglia, which ultimately make a recommendation about which actions should be performed.

We are interested in understanding how the striatum accomplishes this, and what goes awry in disease states. We use cutting edge physiological and imaging techniques to dissect the microcircuitry of the striatum, ask how specific synaptic connections within this circuit are plastically adjusted to optimize behavior, and determine how this is altered in neurological disorders such as OCD. To do this, we pair electrophysiological recordings with 2-photon laser scanning microscopy to record from identified striatal neurons in genetically altered mice. We prove the local activity of postsynaptic dendritic sub-regions using 2-photon calcium imaging, and activate individual, visually identify synapses using 2-photo photolysis of glutamate and optogenetic activation of specific afferents. The combination of these tools lets us interrogate the striatum in a way that has traditionally not been possible, and opens exciting new doors to uncover the underpinnings of disorders such as OCD.

Phone: (631) 632-8624 (office)
Fax: (631) 632-9603
Email: Joshua.Plotkin@stonybrook.edu
Website: plotkinlab.com

For a complete bio, click here

Alfredo Fontanini, MD, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior

Alfredo Fontanini, MD, PhD, a neurobiologist, received his medical degree from University of Brescia School of Medicine, Italy, where he also performed some of his PhD work, before completing his PhD at California Institute of Technology. Postdoctoral training followed at Brandeis University, where Dr. Fontanini was a Sloan-Swartz Fellow for Theoretical Neurobiology. In 2008, Dr. Fontanini joined the faculty of Stony Brook University as Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and is now an Associate Professor in the department. He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Association for Chemoreception Sciences.

Focus of the Fontanini Lab: The Neuroscience of Taste

In our everyday life, sensory perception has a very rich phenomenology: no stimulus evokes the same sensation twice. Imagine you smell the fragrance of a freshly baked cake; it’s your favorite one, you are craving sweets and on top of that it’s your birthday. The smell is great and the taste glorious. Now, imagine you are not hungry, or you just got sick, or you are simply in a bad mood. In all these cases, you will not perceive the odor and the taste of the cake in the same way as in the first situation. This is just a simple example of the many ways in which the internal state of an organism can modify the meaning of a stimulus and influence its perception.

Our lab is interested in understanding the neural basis of this perceptual richnesss. Specifically, we are studying how different internal/cognitive states modulate neural responses to sensory stimuli in awake behaving rats and mice. Our work focuses on the chemical senses. Taste and olfaction two sensory modalities with a strong ecological bond, are particularly amenable to cognitive modulation in virtue of their natural relationship with emotional, motivational and homeostatic processes.

We study the neural responses to odors and tastes, as well as systems dynamics related to different cognitive states, using multisite multielectrode techniques and in vivo intracellular electrophysiology. Various behavioral protocols and experimental manipulations of the brain are used to perturb, in a controlled manner, the state of the animal.

Phone: (631) 632-3242 (office)
Fax: (631) 632-6661
Email: Alfredo.Fontanini@stonybrook.edu

For a complete bio, click here