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The Department of Physiology News

Research News - Feb. 2010
Baron Chanda A UW team led by Baron Chanda, Assistant Professor of Physiology, has made a discovery important to the millions of people who are on common medications for heart and neurological diseases

The discovery, published in the Jan. 31, 2010 issue of Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, relates to ion channels, key molecular players that generate and control electrical signals critical for heart, brain and other types of cells to do their jobs. If anything goes wrong in the process, called excitability, potentially deadly heartbeat abnormalities and epilepsies may arise.

The researchers have shown how the structure that couples the two main parts of sodium ion channels may allow them to communicate. Read more...

Graduate Student Update - Fall 2009
Che-Wei Chang Brandon Wright Che-Wei Chang and Brandon Wright have joined the lab of Professor Meyer Jackson as new graduate students, starting Fall 2009.


Click here to meet the other Physiology graduate students
Research News - Aug. 2009
A new 'bent' on fusion
Ed Chapman Research at the Dept. of Physiology, led by Professor Ed Chapman, offers the first concrete evidence that a protein called synaptotagmin plays a critical role in initiating fusion by bending a section of a target membrane. The protruding dimple provides a small point of contact that can fuse with another membrane with less effort.

The finding, reported in the current issue (Aug. 21) of Cell [Link], answers important questions relating to one of the most fundamental processes in biology.

The UW-Madison team also showed that a particular segment of synaptotagmin is responsible for bending membranes.

Enfu Hui, Colin Johnson and Jun Yao were co-first authors on this study, and Mark Dunning also contributed to the research.

Read More - Article from UW-Madison News

Transitions - Aug. 2009
Donata Oertel August 2009 was a time of transition at the Department of Physiology. Our long-serving Chair, Richard Moss, has accepted a wider responsibility as Senior Associate Dean for basic research, biotechnology and graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health [full story]. Professor Donata Oertel, has been appointed Interim Chair, effective Aug. 1, 2009. Prof. Oertel has been with the department since 1979, and expects to carry on the tradition of excellence in Research and Teaching established by Dr. Moss, as well as expanding in new directions.

Prof. Moss will continue as Professor of Physiology, leading his very active Research Lab, and teaching. Naturally, we had a party to celebrate, and to say thanks for the 21 years of leading the Department as Chair. The party was well-attended by most of his colleagues and friends, including some playful reminiscing about Rick's years as Chair. Pictures from the party are attached below.

Ladera Barnes wrote a short poem to describe the Chair's resposibilities:

"A Department Chair must handle:
Merger, staffing and administration,
Writing letters, calendar conflicts and moments of frustration.
Phone calls and arrangements always to be made,
Budgets, low balances and bills to be paid.
Lawsuits, lawyers and court hearings to attend,
Always finding time for an ear to lend.
Retirements, recruitments, promotions and such,
Rarely is there time to take a long lunch.
Teaching and mentoring, assigning space allocations,
Working out arrangements for lab relocations.
HR issues, polices and procedures to follow,
For committees and meetings, there's always tomorrow."

Thank you, Rick, and good luck, Donata!

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Faculty Position - Synaptic Physiology - Summer 2009
The Department of Physiology invites applications for a tenure-track, assistant professor in neuroscience, working in the area of synaptic function. Individuals working in synaptic plasticity, synaptic modulation, neuronal calcium, dendritic integration, and neuronal circuits are especially encouraged to apply but applications are welcome from candidates who plan to investigate any aspect of synaptic physiology.

To ensure consideration, please submit complete application by November 1, 2009. However, applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

Click here for more information...

New Faculty - Apr. 2009

Xin Huang Xin Huang has joined the faculty of the Dept. of Physiology as of April 2009. Xin obtained his Ph.D. at Brown University in 2003, and most recently was doing postdoctoral research at the University of California - San Francisco. His area of research is "Neural basis of vision and visually guided behavior" and his lab uses the combined techniques of neurophysiology, psychophysics, and computational modeling. Read more....


Q. R. Murphy Lecture - Apr. 2009

Prof. Richard Aldrich The 2009 Q. R. Murphy Lecture in Physiology was delivered by Prof. Richard Aldrich, Professor and Chair of Neurobiology at the University of Texas - Austin, on April 15, 2009.

The topic of this year's lecture was "Gating of Calcium Dependent Potassium Channels". It was well-attended by a large gathering of students, faculty and researchers from across campus. A reception followed, allowing for more interaction with the invited speaker, and discussion among the participants.

Dr. Murphy was a long-time member of the Department of Physiology faculty and was well known for studies of cardiac arrhythmias and as an outstanding teacher in medical physiology. The QR Murphy Lectureship was established in 1985 by Professor Murphy's colleagues and family as a way to honor his contributions and to encourage communication and scholarship in physiology.

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Research News - Feb. 2009
Research Team Discovers Brain Pathway Responsible for Obesity and Related Problems
Dongsheng Cai Researchers at the Dept. of Physiology, led by Assistant Professor Dongsheng Cai, for the first time, have found a messaging system in the brain that directly affects food intake and body weight.

Reported in the Oct. 3, 2008 issue of Cell [Link], the findings--from a study in mice--point to a completely new approach to treating and preventing obesity in humans. The discovery also offers hope for new ways to treat related disorders, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases--the most prevalent health problems in the United States and the rest of the developed world.

The researchers looked specifically at the hypothalamus--the brain structure responsible for maintaining a steady state in the body--and for the first time found that a cell-signaling pathway primarily associated with inflammation also influences the regulation of food intake. Stimulating the pathway led the animals to increase their energy consumption, while suppressing it helped them maintain normal food intake and body weight.

Read More - Press Release from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health

Research News - Jan. 2009
New research findings from the laboratories of Meyer Jackson and Ed Chapman, Professors of Physiology, along with colleagues and students Zhenjie Zhang, Akhil Bhalla, and Camin Dean, raise very interesting possibilities for women's health, in which rising and falling hormone levels play a key role in many biological processes.

The findings appear in the Jan 11, 2009 issue of Nature Neuroscience [full text, PDF]

They are also featured in a recent news article in the Madison Capitol Times [Link]

The following release from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, titled "Going Rogue: Protein That Regulates Hormones Critical to Women's Health Found in Pituitary" describes the results:

MADISON -- University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have solved the mystery surrounding a "rogue protein" that plays a role in the release of neurotransmitters and hormones in the brain.

The scientists found abundant amounts of the puzzling protein-whose main location and function were unknown until now-in a specific area of the pituitary gland.

Like someone at a control knob, the protein may adjust the release of the two hormones that come almost exclusively from the posterior pituitary: oxytocin, which controls many reproductive functions, and vasopressin, which controls fluid balance.

        "The findings raise very interesting possibilities for women's health, in which rising and falling hormone levels play a key role in many biological processes," said senior author Meyer Jackson, professor of physiology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH). More studies will be needed to better understand the protein, he added.

The study appeared in the Jan. 11, 2009, Nature Neuroscience.

The research focused on Syt IV, a maverick member of the synaptotagmin family of 17 proteins, which are present in both mice and humans. Synaptotagmins are usually embedded in the membranes of small sacs, or vesicles, filled with neurotransmitters and hormones within nerve terminals. When an electrical impulse from one cell reaches a nerve terminal, it triggers the release of calcium, which in turn triggers the spilling out of the vesicle's contents--neurotransmitters and hormones--so that they can act on other cells.

"Most synaptotagmins are triggering molecules that drive a vesicle's membrane into the membrane that surrounds a neighboring cell so that chemicals inside the vesicle can come out," said Jackson.

 But Syt IV is an odd member of the family because it doesn't bind to calcium, he said. In addition, Syt IV is found only sparsely in most parts of the brain. But Jackson and his colleagues were surprised a few years ago when they discovered large amounts of it in the posterior pituitary, one of the three primary parts of the gland.

He teamed up with Edwin Chapman, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and fellow SMPH physiology professor, a synaptotagmin expert. The UW researchers conducted high-powered biophysical measurements to understand exactly what Syt IV does in the pituitary. They made a thorough comparison of pituitaries from normal mice and mice in which Syt IV had been knocked out.

The work showed conclusively that, like other members of the synaptotagmin family, Syt IV resides on vesicles. But unlike the others, it doesn't trigger neurotransmitter or hormone release.

"Syt IV does not simply translate a calcium signal into a command for hormone release," said Jackson. "Unlike other synaptotagmins, Syt IV tunes the triggering command and determines whether the same electrical impulse will let a large or small amount of hormone out of the nerve terminal." 

This ability to modulate hormone release may have important implications for pregnancy, birth, lactation and the menstrual cycle, all of which are linked to fluctuations in oxytocin levels.

"Any change in the body that entails releasing more or less of this hormone into the blood stream could well be a result of the brain's making more or less of this protein," said Jackson, who for two decades has studied the powerful pea-sized pituitary located at the base of the brain.

For example, early release of oxytocin can lead to premature birth, a phenomenon that has intrigued Jackson for a long time. "It's quite possible that Syt IV levels change during pregnancy, birth and even post partum," he conjectures.

Confirming the possibility will be the next order of business for the Wisconsin researchers and others.

Jackson's interest in the effects of oxytocin, also known as the "love hormone," is not restricted to the female reproductive system. Last year, his team showed that Viagra acts in the posterior pituitary by enabling electrical impulses to release more oxytocin.

Zhenjie Zhang was the lead author of the current paper, and this work was a major part of his doctoral thesis. He is now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. Camin Dean, a post-doctoral researcher in the UW physiology department, and Akhil Bhalla, now a post-doctoral researcher at Columbia University, were also involved in the study.

Research News - Dec. 2008
New imaging techniques recently developed in the laboratory of Gerard Marriott, Professor of Physiology, offer promise of greatly improving the contrast and resolution of fluorescence microscopy in living cells and tissue. These techniques (optical lock-in detection (OLID) imaging microscopy and its sister technologies, employ new probes called optical switches that undergo rapid and reversible, light-directed transitions between two states, only one of which is fluorescent.  The modulated fluorescence of these switch probes is isolated from other background sources using a digital lock-in detection approach developed by Dr Yuling Yan that provides unrivaled improvement in the image contrast compared to conventional techniques.

The work has been cited as very promising by several leading research publications. "...may hold greater promise than conventional probes because they can be incorporated into genes of interest for expression studies" (PNAS), "New tool sheds light on cell imaging." (The Scientist), and "...would create opportunities for true multiplexed imaging of protein interactions in cells and in tissue." (

The OLID-FRET technique is on the list of The Scientist magazine top ten innovations for 2008 (

(A) Fluorescence intensity image of Dronpa-actin transiently expressed in rat P1 hippocampal neurons, transfected at 8 days in vitro (DIV) and imaged in live cells at 11 DIV. Inset shows normalized fluorescence intensity of the internal reference over 3 cycles of optical switching.
(B) Correlation image of Dronpa-actin of same field as in (A), improves contrast, and reveals finer processes and dendritic spines.
Graduate Student Update - Fall 2008
Sandipan Chowdhury Sandipan Chowdhury has joined the lab of Assistant Professor Baron Chanda as a new graduate student, starting Fall 2008.


Click here to meet the other Physiology graduate students

The following graduate students were awarded the Ph.D. degree in Physiology during the 2007-08 school year (names of thesis advisors are in parentheses):

Xiaobing Li
Xiaobing Li
(Michele Basso)
Karen Reece
Karen Reece
(Richard Moss)
Shu Mao
Shu Mao
(G. Marriott)
Jing Luo
Jing Luo
(Dandan Sun)
Myungsoon Moon
Myungsoon Moon
(Tim Gomez)
Sri Venkatachalan
Sri Venkatachalan
(C. Czajkowski)
Chris Hinckley
Chris Hinckley
(Lea Ziskind Conhaim)
Sandra Klein
Sandra Klein
(Clive Svendsen)
Nate Evans
Nate Evans
(Jeff Walker)
Zhenjie Zhang
Zhenjie Zhang
(Meyer Jackson)
Amanda Vega
Amanda Vega
(J. Makielski)
click here for more pics
Click here for graduation pics
Congratulations to all!
Student Award - Summer 2008
Megan Severson Megan Severson, a student in the lab of Professor Lea Ziskind-Conhaim, was awarded a Hilldale undergraduate research fellowship.  The title of her project is: "Mechanisms underlying cannabinoid-induced changes in spinal reflexes". 
Faculty News - June 2008
Lea Ziskind-Conhaim Lea Ziskind-Conhaim, Professor of Physiology, has been appointed to the Journal of Neurophysiology editorial board through June 30, 2011.
Research Retreat - May 2008
Click here for pictures The 2nd Annual Physiology Retreat was held on May 19-20, 2008, at Heidel House in beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin. Over 70 faculty, post-docs, and graduate students spent a busy two days filled with research presentations, discussion, and a poster session. This included presentations by 16 speakers from 12 labs about current ongoing work, plus invited lectures by two featured speakers (Lee Sweeney from University of Pennsylvania and Indira Raman from Northwestern University). Click here for the full program [pdf]. It was a great way to interact with colleagues and learn about their work.

Click here to see the pictures.
Click here for the poster session topics [pdf].

Faculty Award - May 2008
Baron Chanda Baron Chanda, Assistant Professor of Physiology, has been awarded the Shaw Award by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation for "Innovative research that could help develop drugs to treat disorders such as epilepsy and cardiac arrhythmias".

The Shaw Award — a $200,000 unrestricted prize — provides critical support for groundbreaking research at the frontiers of genetics, cell biology and cancer research to promising young scientists at the start of their careers. Read more...


2008 Jerzy Rose Award Winners
Mike Chicka and Xiaobing Li both win the 2008 Jerzy Rose Neuroscience Award given for 'original and significant research in neuroscience during graduate training at the University of Wisconsin - Madison'. Mike Chicka did his graduate work in the laboratory of Ed Chapman (Professor of Physiology and Howard Hughes Investigator) and the title of his thesis was "Molecular mechanisms by which synaptotagmin regulates calcium triggered membrane fusion". Xiaobing Li did his graduate work in the laboratory of Michele A. Basso (Asst. Professor of Physiology) and the title of his thesis was "Saccade target selection and spatial attention in the superior colliculus".

Congratulations, Mike and Xiaobing!

Faculty News - October 2007
Two faculty members named permanent members of NIH study sections!
Lea Ziskind-Conhaim has been named a permanent member of the Sensorimotor Integration (SMI) study section.
Gerard Marriott is a standing member of the Microscope Imaging study section.
New Graduate Students for Fall 2007
The Department of Physiology is pleased to welcome the following new students who have joined the department.
Serife Ayaz Guner
Serife Ayaz Guner - B.S., Biology, M.S., Biotechnology, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey.
Hua Bai
Hua Bai - B.S., Biological Science, Peking University.
Randall Loaiza
Randall Loaiza - Licentiate in Pharmacy; Graduate studies in Cell Physiology, Universidad de Costa Rica.

Research News - August 2007
The little blue pill may do more than get the blood pumping. Sildenafil — the generic name for Viagra — also increases release of a reproductive hormone in rats, according to a new study by Meyer Jackson and his lab...

Click here to

Research Retreat - May 2007
Heidel House Resort The 1st Annual Physiology Retreat was held on May 21-22, 2007, at Heidel House in beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin. Over 50 faculty, post-docs and graduate students spent a busy two days filled with research presentations, discussion and a poster session. This included presentations by 28 speakers from 14 labs about current ongoing work, plus invited lectures by two featured speakers (Don Bers from Loyola University and Zhe Lu from Univ. of Pennsylvania). Click here [pdf] for the full program. It was a great way to interact with colleagues and learn about their work.

Click here to see the pictures.

Faculty News
The Wisconsin Association for Biomedical Research and Education presented Joe Kemnitz, Director of the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, and Professor of Physiology, with the Knox Courage Award for demonstrated courage while providing public education on the need for humane biomedical research and discovery.
Dr. Cynthia Czajkowski has been invited to join the editorial board of the Journal of Neuroscience as an Associate Editor in the Cellular Molecular section.
Seeing a Neurotoxin's Deadly Grip
Min DongMin Dong (Ed Chapman Lab) has emerged as the leader in the study of the entry of clostridial neurotoxins into neurons, and this year his work has resulted in first author papers in Science and Nature on this topic - a rare achievement; kudos to Min!

Click here to read more about Min and Ed's work.

Holiday Party - 2006
Click here to see who was there The 2006 Holiday and Employee Recognition Party was held at the University Club on Friday, Dec. 8. It was a fun and happy event as always. Do plan to be there next year.

Click here to see the pictures from the Dec. 2006 party.

New Director
Tom YinTom Yin has been named Director of the Neuroscience Training Program. The program currently has more than 50 student trainees and faculty members from over 20 departments serve as trainers.
New Graduate Students for Fall 2006
The Department of Physiology is pleased to welcome the following new students who have joined the department.
Sandy Dunning - B.A., Religious Studies/Anthropology, UW-Madison, WI.
Sam Kwon
Sung Eun (Sam) Kwon - B.S., Biomedical Science, The University of Auckland, New Zealand; B.S., Neuroscience, Australian National University, Canberra.
Margertha McLean
Margertha McLean - B.S., Biology/Chemistry, Tennessee State University
Dongsheng Wang
Dongsheng Wang - B.S., Biological Sciences, Peking University
Student Orientation will be August 28, 2006 (Click here for Program)
New Ironman
Madison's newest Ironman is none other than Physiology's Emily Farrell, who completed the grueling Wisconsin Ironman triathlon last Sunday (Sep. 10, 2006) in a very impressive 11 hours and 26 minutes. The event involves a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run, all without a break. Competing against an international field of over 2000, Emily finished first among Madison area women, and 21st among all women, and qualified for the prestigious Ironman World Championships to be held in Hawaii in October 2007. Well done!
Chapman Lab in the news
Recent work from the Chapman laboratory is in the news!

Research identifying the receptor for botulinum neurotoxin A was featured in Science Perspectives (Link), Nature Reviews Neuroscience, (Link), and ACS Chemical Biology (Link).

The UW-Madison press release is available here:

The lab was also featured in Nature Structural and Molecular Biology (Link) and Nature Chemical Biology (Link) for its work showing that the Ca2+ -sensing protein synaptotagmin I interacts specifically with neuronal t-SNARE heterodimers in response to Ca2+.

New Graduates
click to enlarge A party on May 10, 2006 celebrated the successful completion of Ph.D's by Payne Chang and Yukiko Muroi, both graduate students in the lab of Meyer Jackson. Payne will be leaving soon for a post-doc at the University of Texas, Austin, while Yukiko will be working for a few more months in Meyer's lab. A total of 14 students have now completed their Ph.D in Meyer's lab. Congratulations - Payne, Yukiko, and Meyer!
New Book
click to learn more about the book Meyer Jackson is the author of a new book, "Molecular and Cellular Biophysics", published by Cambridge University Press. The book provides advanced undergraduate and graduate students with a foundation in the basic concepts of biophysics. It provides a treatment of the fundamental theories in biophysics and illustrates their application with examples. Read more...
Honors and Awards
Dr. Richard L. Moss has been selected by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and its National Advisory Council to receive the prestigious Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award.

The MERIT award is designed to provide long-term, stable support to investigators whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior, and who are likely to continue in an outstanding manner. The MERIT Award will extend and support Dr. Moss' research to a total of ten years.

Holiday Party - 2005
The 2005 Holiday and Employee Recognition Party was held at the University Club on Friday, Dec. 9.. Thanks to all those who attended and helped make it a great success.

Click here to see the pictures from the Dec. 2005 party.

Faculty News
Robert Fettiplace Robert Fettiplace will receive the Award of Merit at the midwinter meeting of the Association of Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) in February 2006. The Award of Merit is given each year to a scientist who has made exceptionally significant contributions to understanding hearing and balance. Dr. Fettiplace graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1974. After postdoctoral training at Stanford he returned to Cambridge and began his studies of mechanoelectrical transduction in the cochlea. His work has made fundamental contributions to understanding how hair cells in the cochlea supply the brain with sharply tuned acoustic information over a wide range of amplitudes. He has been a faculty member in the Department of Physiology since 1990. A playful summary of his achievements given by one of his colleagues is reproduced below:

"The Award of Merit goes to our Robert this year
For work on transduction by cells of the ear.
In and out, calcium and potassium dance around
To make turtle cells tuned exquisitely to sound.
Stereocilia don’t just yield to a push and lean
But generate forces ever so quick and clean.
Single transducer channels Robert studied next.
They’re tricky because they need cells’ context.
Robert made hair cells with just one that works
And studied their opening, closing and other quirks.
That calcium’s important has long been clear
It’s buffered in hairs in the front and also in rear.
Remove it and gone are the tip links that tug
Let it in and, by golly, it acts like a plug.
Cheers for Robert and well-earned recognition
And for the beautiful work he did bring to fruition."

Meyer Jackson Meyer Jackson received the WARF named professorship appointment as Kenneth S. Cole Professor of Physiology on July 1, 2005. The WARF Professorship provides recognition and honor to faculty who have made major contributions to the advancement of knowledge, primarily through their research endeavors, but also as a result of their teaching and service activities. He has established himself as an exceptional theoretician and experimentalist who is highly respected nationally and internationally for his work in the areas of ion channel biophysics and synaptic physiology. Dr. Jackson graduated from Yale University in 1977 and studies the biophysics of neuronal signaling. He has been a faculty member of the Department of Physiology since 1981.

Ed Chapman Ed Chapman has been named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Masters in Biotechnology
click to read more The Master of Science in Biotechnology is an affliated program intended for practicing scientists, technical professionals, attorneys and business strategists seeking a cross-functional understanding of biotechnology without having to interrupt their careers to pursue studies full time. Read more...
Interdisciplinary Research Complex
A new home for the Department of Physiology is in the works. Take a look at the latest plans for the future.
New Graduate Students for Fall 2005/Spring 2006
The Department of Physiology is pleased to announce the following new students have joined the department.
Michelle Capes
Michelle Capes - B.S., M.S., Biology, Texas A&M University, Canyon, TX.
Peter Chen
Peter Chen - B.S., Biochemistry, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.
Jason Foell
Jason Foell - B.S., Microbiology; Genetics/Cell Biology, University of Minnesota
Molly Johannessen
Molly Johannessen - B.S., Chemistry-Biology, Lawrence University
Byounghoon Kim
Byounghoon Kim - B.S., Psychology, Korea University, Seoul, Korea; M.S., Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.
Erica Lenhart
Erica Lenhart - B.A., Biological Anthropology, Northwestern University
Eric Schmuck
Eric Schmuck - B.S., Biology/Chemistry, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, WI
Linying Wu
Linying Wu - B.S., Clinical Medicine, Fudan University, Shanghai, China
Physiology in Med School Quarterly
Physiology was featured in the Autumn 2004 issue of Quarterly, a publication produced by the UW Medical School. Read about the history and exciting future directions of the department. Physiology Quarterly Article (pdf)
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Department of Physiology
University of Wisconsin
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Madison, Wisconsin 53706-1510
Phone: (608) 262-2938
Fax: (608) 265-5512

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Last Updated: Feb. 1, 2010