has recently joined the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences at Hunter College as an Assistant Professor and is a welcome new member of the CUNY Biology PhD Program and the CUNY Neuroscience Collaborative. Professor Likhtik’s current research centers on the neural mechanisms involved in emotional processing and in learning.
After obtaining a degree in Psychology at Barnard College, Columbia University, Professor Likhtik spent a few years overseas participating in cognitive studies of patients suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (Paris) and in human sleep studies (Israel), in which EEG and EKG recordings were used as a means for revealing the physiology underlying fragmented sleep. Recognizing that a full understanding of cognition would require the integrative study of behavior along with biological processes taking place in the brain, Professor Likhtik focused her doctoral research (Rutgers University, Program in Integrative Neuroscience) on a small region in the brain, the amygdala, implicated in the processing of emotions. In both her doctoral work, and her subsequent post-doctoral work at Columbia University, she used in vivo recordings of neuronal activity in animals exposed to emotional cues and/or learning tasks in order to unravel the neural circuitry involved. These studies resulted in ground—breaking insights into the neural circuitry involved in fear and in the extinction of fear (e.g. Likhtik et al., Nature 454:642. 2008; Likhtik and Gordon, Neuron 80:1109. 2013; Likhtik et al., Nature Neuroscience 106:113. 2014).
In her current research, Professor Likhtik continues her focus on the amygdala and its role in neural mechanisms of learning and emotional processing. Taking advantage of methodologies that span the full range of research disciplines in neuroscience (e.g. electrophysiology, optogenetics, pharmacology, classical learning paradigms), Professor Likhtik is able to investigate the cellular activity of the amygdala, revealing network oscillations that take place during learning and during discrimination of fear and safety. By looking at simultaneous activities in other regions of the brain, Dr. Likhtik’s recent work has shown that the prefrontal cortex suppresses amygdala activity to enable discrimination of safe and dangerous stimuli. Loss of this coordination between brain regions can serve as a biomarker for disrupted cognitive processing in psychiatric Anxiety Disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Professor Likhtik is already well-poised to continue her studies in her new laboratory at Hunter College. She has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) to investigate the physiology of amygdala - basal forebrain interactions in learning about threat and safety. She is also the recipient of a NARSAD Young Investigator Award from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation to investigate how prefrontal-amygdala interactions can be modulated to diminish generalized anxiety. She is currently teaching the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory seminar at Hunter College (open to CUNY Biology and Psychology PhD students) in Spring semester 2016 and will be teaching an undergraduate level Introduction to Neuroscience Biology course in the Fall of 2016.
Text by Raena Mina
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