Sara Burke, Ph.D.
Dr. Burke is interested in the neurobiology of age-related memory loss. Her lab, affiliated with the McKnight Brain Institute, addresses this question using multiple levels of analysis that include molecular imaging techniques, high-channel count in vivo neurophysiology, and behavioral assessment. Particularly, they are taking the novel approach of trying to understand how aging impacts communication across brain areas that are critical for adaptive behaviors. Age-associated cognitive impairments do not result from alterations to brain structures in isolation. To fully understand cognitive aging, it is therefore imperative to examine how brain areas interact. A powerful tool for pin-pointing disruptions in the complex neural systems that produce cognitive dysfunction during normal aging is the careful analysis of behavior. Therefore, all of her research projects begin with an extensive cognitive test battery, including tests of spatial memory, working memory, stimulus recognition and sensory perception. Following, a careful characterization of behavior, the primary methods she uses to assay the neurobiological basis of age-associated cognitive decline are single-cell imaging techniques and in vivo high-density recordings of single neurons from behaving rats. A strength of this approach is that the neurobiology of age-related memory loss is examined at multiple levels. Behavioral analysis along with advanced imaging and physiological techniques provides a multiplicative understanding of the loci of circuit disruptions by linking specific physiological features to cognitive performance.