2013-2014 Honors Lecture Schedule

The Honors Program Lecture Series is NYU School of Medicine's premier lecture series featuring research seminars by outstanding scientists from around the world to the entire NYU School of Medicine research community of scientists, physicians, and students. Receptions held after each lectures provide opportunity for students to meet with the guest lecturer. The lecture series is sponsored by the Honors Program, which offers research opportunities in the basic sciences for medical students. To learn more about this program please visit: http://school.med.nyu.edu/research/honors-program.

Meeting times: Mondays at 4:00PM 

Meeting Location: Alumni Hall B

Attendance: Open to all NYU Langone Medical Center Faculty, Trainees, and Staff

Contact: If you have any questions about this seminar series please contact Josephine Markiewicz


2013-2014 Honors Program Schedule  

Sept | Oct | Nov | Dec | Jan | Feb | March | April | May | June | July | Aug


September 2013

September 23, 2013

Jorge E. Galan, PhD, DVM

Lucille P. Markey Professor of Microbiology and Chairman, Dept. of Microbial Pathogenesis and Professor of Cell Biology; Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT

Title of Talk: Typhoid Toxin: a Window into the Unique Biology of Salmonella typhi

Hosted by: Dan Littman

Salmonella Tyhi continues to be a serious global health concern, resulting in more than 200,000 annual deaths. A distinguishing feature of S. Typhi is that it only infects humans, causing a life-threatening systemic infection known as "typhoid fever". This is in sharp contrast to most other Salmonellae, which can infect a variety of hosts and are usually associated with self-limiting gastroenteritis (i. e. food poisoning). The molecular bases for Salmonella Typhi's unique pathogenesis and host specificity will be discussed.


October 2013

October 7, 2013

Nicole King, PhD

Associate Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology; University of California , Berkeley

Title of Talk: The Origins of Animal-microbe Interactions

Hosted by: Ruth Lehmann

The evolution of animals from their single celled ancestors represents one of the major transitions in life’s history. Because animals evolved in seas filled with bacteria and have lived in close association with bacteria throughout their evolutionary history, it is likely that diverse interactions with bacteria (including predation of bacteria, harboring of bacterial commensals, and affliction by bacterial pathogens) influenced animal origins. Through my lab’s study of choanoflagellates, the closest living relatives of animals, we have discovered that a developmental switch from unicellularity to multicellular development is regulated by a secreted signal from environmental bacteria. Choanoflagellates prey upon bacteria and this switch improves their efficiency as predators. Interactions between choanoflagellates and bacteria may help to inform the evolutionary foundations of animal-bacterial interactions.

October 21, 2013

Ron D. Vale, PhD

Professor and Vice-Chair of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology; University of California at San Francisco. Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Title of Talk: The Mechanism of Molecular Motor Proteins

Hosted by: Ruth Lehmann

Movement is a fundamental property of living organisms. The beating of cilia and flagella, segregation of genetic material during mitosis, and intracellular transport of membranes, proteins and mRNAs are driven by kinesin and dynein, molecular motors that move along microtubules filaments. I will discuss how single molecule and structural methods can be used to dissect how these motors can use ATP energy to move along these tracks.



November 2013

November 4, 2013

Miguel A.L. Nicolelis, MD, PhD

Anne W. Deane Professor of Neuroscience and Professor of Neurobiology, Biomedical Engineering and Psychology; Duke University, Durham, NC.  Founder of Duke's Center for Neuroengineering and Founder and Scientific Director of the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute for Neuroscience of Natal

Title of Talk: Computing with Neural Ensembles

Hosted by: Ed Ziff

In this talk, I will describe how state-of-the-art research on brain-machine interfaces make it possible for the brains of primates to interact directly and in a bi-directional way with mechanical, computational and virtual devices without any interference of the body muscles or sensory organs. I will review a series of recent experiments using real-time computational models to investigate how ensembles of neurons encode motor information. These experiments have revealed that brain-machine interfaces can be used not only to study fundamental aspects of neural ensemble physiology, but they can also serve as an experimental paradigm aimed at testing the design of novel neuroprosthetic devices. I will also describe evidence indicating that continuous operation of a closed-loop brain machine interface, which utilizes a robotic arm as its main actuator, can induce significant changes in the physiological properties of neural circuits in multiple motor and sensory cortical areas. This research raises the hypothesis that the properties of a robot arm, or other neurally controlled tools, can be assimilated by brain representations as if they were extensions of the subject's own body.

November 18, 2013

Tony Hyman, PhD

Director, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics; Dresden, Germany

Title of Talk: Phase Separation in Cytoplasm

Hosted by: Ruth Lehmann

In sexually reproducing organisms, embryos specify germ cells, which ultimately generate sperm and eggs. In Caenorhabditis elegans, the first germ cell is established when RNA and protein-rich P granules localize to the posterior of the one-cell embryo. Localization of P granules and their physical nature remain poorly understood. Here we show that P granules exhibit liquid-like behaviors, including fusion, dripping, and wetting, which we used to estimate their viscosity and surface tension. As with other liquids, P granules rapidly dissolved and condensed. Localization occurred by a biased increase in P granule condensation at the posterior. This process reflects a classic phase transition, in which polarity proteins vary the condensation point across the cell. Such phase transitions may represent a fundamental physicochemical mechanism for structuring the cytoplasm. I will discuss how general properties of liquid-liquid phase separation explain cells build non-membrane bound compartments that can execute complex biochemistry.

November 25, 2013

David Julius, PhD

Morris Herzstein Chair in Molecular Biology and Medicine, Professor and Chair of Physiology; University of California at San Francisco.

Title of Talk: Natural Products as Probes of the Pain Pathway

Hosted by: Ed Ziff

We are interested in determining the molecular basis of somatosensation - the process whereby we experience touch and temperature - with an emphasis on identifying molecules that detect noxious (pain-producing) stimuli. We are also interested in understanding how somatosensation is altered in response to tissue or nerve injury. Our approach has been to identify molecular targets for natural products that mimic the psychophysical effects of commonly encountered somatosensory stimuli, such as heat or cold, and to then ask how these molecules are activated or modulated by noxious stimuli or injury. We have focused on three members of the TRP channel family (TRPV1, TRPM8, and TRPA1) that are expressed by subpopulations of primary afferent sensory neurons and which have been implicated in the detection of thermal stimuli and/or inflammatory agents. Genetic studies support the idea that the capsaicin receptor (TRPV1) and the menthol receptor (TRPM8) function as detectors of heat and cold, respectively, whereas the wasabi receptor (TRPA1) functions as a detector of environmental and endogenous chemical irritants. From a signal transduction and therapeutic perspective, there is great interest in understanding how these channels are activated (gated) by physical and/or chemical stimuli. We have used a combination of unbiased genetic screening and natural product biochemistry to address these issues and probe mechanisms of stimulus detection and channel activation.


December 2013

December 2, 2013

Jack W. Szostak, PhD

Professor of Genetics; Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA. Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Title of Talk: The Origin of Cellular Life

Hosted by: Ruth Lehmann


The complexity of modern biological life has long made it difficult to understand how life could emerge spontaneously from the chemistry of the early earth. In an effort to discover plausible pathways for the transition from chemical evolution to Darwinian evolution, we are attempting to synthesize extremely simple artificial cells. I will present recent experimental progress towards the development and integration of the two key components of such a protocell, namely a self-replicating nucleic acid genome, and a self-replicating cell membrane.


January 2014

January 6, 2014

Michael Botchan, PhD

Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Chair, Dept.Molecular and Cell Biology; University of California, Berkeley

Title of Talk: Starting S Phase: Activation of the Mcm Helicase

Hosted by: Evgeny Nudler

Licensing of DNA replication start sites is executed in the G1 phase of the cell cycle and these words are a metaphor for the biochemical pathway leading to the assembly on duplex DNA of a double hexamer of the Mcm complex.The Mcm's are inactive in unwinding DNA and commitment to S phase is tightly linked to the activation of the latent helicase. Our biochemical and structural studies of the helicase provides some insights into how the Mcm complex is activated and what needs to happen to switch to S phase.


January 13, 2014

Howard Chang, MD, PhD

Professor of Dermatology; Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford CA.  Early Career Scientist, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Title of Talk: Genome Regulation in Cell Fate Control and Plasticity

Hosted by: Dan Littman / Iannis Aifantis

All the cells in the human body have the same DNA, but have very different lives as skin, brain, or other cells. The Chang lab is focused on mechanisms that coordinate the activities of large number of genes in cell fate control. We found important and pervasive roles of long noncoding RNAs in chromatin regulation and human diseases. Insights into cell fate control also illuminates the process of direct reprogramming where skin cells can be turned directly into neurons. New genome-scale technologies to understand RNA and chromatin states provide access to personal epigenomes that can illuminate disease states.


February 2014

February 10, 2014

Edward Boyden, PhD

Associate Professor of Biological Engineering and Brain and Cognitive Sciences; MIT Media Lab and McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Cambridge, MA

Title of Talk: Tools for Mapping and Engineering Brain Computations

Hosted by: 

The brain is a complex, densely wired circuit made out of heterogeneous cells, which vary in their shapes, molecular composition, and patterns of connectivity.  In order to help discover how neural circuits implement brain functions, and how these computations go awry in brain disorders, we invent technologies to enable the scalable, systematic observation and control of biological structures and processes in the living brain.  We have developed genetically-encoded reagents that, when expressed in specific neuron types in the nervous system, enable their electrical activities to be precisely driven or silenced in response to millisecond timescale pulses of light.  I will give an overview of these “optogenetic” tools, adapted from natural photosensory and photosynthetic proteins, and discuss new tools we are developing, including molecules with novel color sensitivities and other unique capabilities.  We are also developing optogenetic tools that enable activation of endogenous protein and signaling pathways.  Often working in interdisciplinary collaborations, we have developed microfabricated hardware to enable complex and distributed neural circuits to be controlled and observed in a fully 3-D fashion, as well as robots that can automatically record neurons intracellularly and integratively in live brain, and strategies for building 3-D brain circuits in vitro.  These tools are in widespread use to enable systematic analysis of neural circuit functions, are also opening up new frontiers on the understanding and treatment of brain disorders, and may serve as components of new platforms for diagnosing and treating brain disease.


March 2014

March 10, 2014

Silvia Arber, PhD

Professor of Neurobiology and Cell Biology, and Senior Group Leader, Friedrich Miescher Institute; Biozentrum, Basel, Switzerland

Title of Talk: The Ups and Downs of Motor Circuit Organization

Hosted by: Ruth Lehmann

Motor behavior represents the ultimate output of most nervous system activity. Its accuracy depends on precise connectivity of many different circuit modules, together controlling programs for motor output, computing predicted action and monitoring consequences of past action. This talk will focus on our recent work unraveling organizational and functional principles of neuronal circuits regulating limb movement. Our findings demonstrate that functional differences discerned at the motor output level and important for appropriate motor behavior are engraved anatomically and genetically as differential spatial maps both at spinal and supraspinal levels.

March 17, 2014

Bruce W. Stillman, PhD

President and Chief Executive Officer, Professor; Cold Spring Harbor, NY

Title of Talk: Duplication of the Human Genome: Mechanism and Control of DNA Replication and Segregation

Hosted by: Evgeny Nudler

My primary goal has been to understand how chromosomes are duplicated during the cell division cycle to ensure faithful inheritance of genetic information in eukaryotes. By initially investigating SV40 DNA replication, we reconstituted the entire process of DNA replication from the SV40 origin and in so doing discovered how the replication fork is assembled. Later, from studies on replication of DNA from chromosomal origins of DNA replication in eukaryotic cells, we discovered an ATP-dependent protein machine, the Origin Recognition Complex (ORC) that is required to form a pre-Replicative Complex (pre-RC) at all origins of DNA replication prior to S phase. The process of pre-RC assembly at origins of DNA replication licenses chromosomes for subsequent DNA replication during the S phase of the cell cycle. Pre-RC assembly has been reconstituted in vitro with purified proteins and structural studies have revealed a conserved mechanism of protein assembly on origin DNA. Activation of DNA replication requires multiple protein kinase signaling systems, including the Cyclin-Dependent Protein Kinase (CDK), the Cdc7-Dbf4 Protein Kinase (DDK) and the Mec1 (ATM/ATR) checkpoint kinase. The presentation will focus on both the mechanism and regulation of the initiation of DNA replication as well as the role of DNA replication proteins in chromosome segregation mechanisms.

March 24, 2014

Arturo Alvarez-Buylla, PhD

Pofessor and Heather and Melanie Muss Endowed Chair in Neurological Surgery; University of California, San Francisco

Title of Talk: Developmental Origins of Adult Neural Stem Cell Specification

Hosted by: Ruth Lehmann

Neural stem cells (NSCs) persist in Subventricular Zone (V-SVZ), an extensive germinal layer in the walls of the lateral ventricles of the adult brain. These NSCs are generally considered multipotent progenitors; they generate in addition to oligodendrocytes, at least six different subtypes of inhibitory interneurons that migrate from the V-SVZ to the olfactory bulb. Surprisingly, however, NSCs in different sub-regions of the V-SVZ are specialized for the production of specific subtypes of olfactory bulb inhibitory interneurons. The adult V-SVZ is finely patterned as revealed by four additional types of local-circuit interneurons we have recently identified that are born in unique micro-domains in the most rostral V-SVZ.. These findings raise interesting questions about the developmental origin of NSC regional specification. I will present recent data on the embryonic origins of adult NSCs regional specification and how these changes current views about the lineage that leads to the formation of adult NSCs.

March 31, 2014

Michael Marletta, PhD

Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Professor of Chemistry, President and CEO; The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA

Title of Talk: Nitric Oxide Sensing: From Bacteria to Humans

Hosted by: Evgeny Nudler

Nitric oxide (NO) has long been known to be an intermediate in bacterial pathways of denitrification. It is only since the middle to late 1980s that it was found to play a central role in a much broader biology context. For example, it is now well established that NO acts as a signaling agent in higher organisms. Yet NO is toxic and reactive under biological conditions. How is the biology carried out by NO controlled? How is NO used and the inherent toxicity avoided? How do organisms tell the difference between NO and O2? What is the biological output? A molecular perspective on ligand discrimination in hemoproteins has emerged as has a further understanding and predictions about selective ligand sensing and function in biology.

April 2014

April 21, 2014

Susan M. Gasser, PhD

Director, Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research; Professor of Molecular Biology, University of Basel, Switzerland

Title of Talk: Heterochromatin and Nuclear Organization Through Development

Hosted by: Ruth Lehmann

Over 60% of the human genome consists of repeat DNA and only a few per cent of our genome actually codes for proteins. As cells differentiate into specific cells types, basically all of the repeat DNA and most of our non-repeat sequences are packaged into a nontranscribed structure called heterochromatin. The histones bound to heterochroamtin bear specific modifications, which themselves attract transcription-repressing nonhistone proteins. In most cells heterochromatin is sequestered away from active chromatin by interaction with the nuclear envelope or with the periphery of the nucleolus. We have used the simple threadworm C. elegans to examine the importance of heterochromatin and its spatial sequestration during the development of a multicellular organism. Various screens have identified the readers and writers of heterochromatin marks, and we have been able to eliminate these in worm embryos. What happens to development or cell type commitment, if cells lack the enzymes that deposit the characteristic heterochromatin marks? What happens when repeat sequences are no longer silenced? C elegans has offered an elegant model system to explore these questions, and argues strongly that genome stability is one of the primary functions achieved by packaging the genome into heterochromatin. This sheds some light on the negative impact of heterochromatin changes in oncogenic cell transformation.

April 28, 2014

Eric Gouaux, PhD

Senior Scientist, Investigator; Vollum Institute, Oregon Health & Science University and HHMI

Title of Talk: The Molecular Choreography of Signaling at the Chemical Synapses of the Brain

Hosted by: Ed Ziff


Fast signal transduction at chemical synapses involves calcium-dependent neurotransmitter release from presynaptic neurons, binding of transmitter to neurotransmitter-gated ion channels located primarily on the postsynaptic membrane, and subsequent uptake of transmitter by way of sodium-coupled neurotransmitter transporters. We are particularly interested in the mechanism by which agonist binding leads to receptor activation, the molecular principles that underlie receptor desensitization or inactivation, and the structural basis for allosteric modulation of receptor activity, as well as the molecular mechanisms to describe the action and inhibition of sodium-coupled neurotransmitter transporters. Here I will define the architectures of AMPA-sensitive glutamate receptors and neurotransmitter transporters and will illustrate the remarkable conformational rearrangements these receptors and transporters undergo throughout their cycles of functional activity.


May 2014

May 5, 2014

Wendell A. Lim, PhD

Professor of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology, and of Biochemistry and Biophhsics, University of California, San Francisco; HHMI Investigator

Title of Talk: Exploring and Exploiting the Design Principles of Cell Signaling Networks

Hosted by: Dan Littman

Living cells are capable of highly complex decision making behaviors. Such regulatory systems are primarily studied through deconstruction. To better understand the overall design logic governing how cells make decisions, we have begun utilizing synthetic approaches in which we ask how one can build molecular networks that execute particular regulatory tasks. Are their limited classes of molecular algorithms for solving common physiological tasks, and if so can we recognize them? Can we develop new ways of precisely rewiring or perturbing cellular networks? Finally, can we test our understanding of how these networks function by engineering cells that carry out novel designed therapeutic functions?

May 19, 2014

Catherine Dulac, PhD

Higgins Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University, Cambridge MA; HHMI Investigator.

Title of Talk: Parental Behavior and Parental Influences: Molecular and Neural Architecture of the Mouse Social Brain

Hosted by: Ed Ziff

My laboratory is exploring at a mechanistic level the function and regulation of circuits underlying social behaviors in the mouse. I will describe our new data uncovering parental influences in the adult and developing brain, and our recent attempt to uncover neuronal populations and circuits involved in the control and modulation of parental behaviors.


June 2014

June 9, 2014

Charles L. Sawyers, MD

Chair, Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, NY

Title of Talk: Overcoming Cancer Drug Resistance

Hosted by: Dan Littman

The clinical success of molecularly targeted therapies such as imatinib for chronic myeloid leukemia sparked a revolution in cancer drug development as well as global efforts to define the landscape of genomic alterations across all cancers.  Today we live in a world with a near complete understanding of all cancer gene mutations, giving us an unprecedented opportunity to leverage this knowledge to improve treatment outcomes.  Despite the many remarkable successes over the past 15 years, drug resistance remains a compelling challenge.  In this lecture I will review lessons learned from the clinical experience of ABL kinase inhibitors in chronic myeloid leukemia, with an emphasis on how a structural understanding of the ABL kinase bound to imatinib pointed the way to next generation ABL inhibitors that can overcome resistance.  I will also discuss our recent progress in developing novel antiandrogens for the treatment of late stage prostate cancer, as an additional example of how cancer genomics can guide successful drug development. Both examples point to the need for combination therapies, selected on the basis of molecular insights into acquired resistance, in order to achieve long term disease control or cures.

June 16, 2014

James J. Collins, PhD

University Professor and Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Harvard University, Cambridge MA; University Professor and Professor of Biomedical Engineering; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; William F. Warren Distinguished Professor; Director, Center for Biologically Inspired Engineering, Boston University

Title of Talk: Network Biology approaches to Microbial Threats

Hosted by: Evgeny Nudler

In this talk, we will highlight recent work in synthetic biology and systems biology aimed at elucidating the mechanisms of action of antibacterials and bacterial responses to antibiotic treatment.  We discuss how the insights arising from these studies can be harnessed to create more effective antibiotics and innovative antibacterial therapies to treat resistant and persistent infections.


For a complete schedule of all upcoming seminars for this series, click here