Amanda Hernan, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Neurological Sciences
Assistant Professor, Tenure Pathway,
Department of Neurological Sciences,
University of Vermont, Larner College of Medicine
How do neurons fire to allow us to attend to relevant information, integrate that information with past experiences and recent memories, and make a decision? What happens when a developmental insult changes the trajectory of these neural
networks to lead to long-lasting impairments in executive function? Are there specific treatments that can modify these developing networks in the context of such an insult to ameliorate the cognitive deficit? What is the role of astrocytes
and other glial cells in mitigating neural network damage from neurodevelopmental insults?
One in every 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy some time in their life, many of these diagnoses happen in children. We have found that seizures during the early life period are associated with significant impairments in learning
and memory and attention deficits that persist to adulthood. These learning and memory impairments are the result of abnormal firing patterns in the brain in specific brain regions, such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex.
I have previously shown that ACTH, a hormone that is an endogenous part of the HPA axis, can prevent cognitive impairment in the context of early life seizures. I believe this is through a mechanism that involves ACTH acting as a neuropeptide
on a specific set of receptors in the brain.
My lab uses state-of-the-art single neuron recording techniques to examine how circuits control behavior and how abnormal neural processing can lead to cognitive impairment in neurodevelopmental diseases, such as pediatric epilepsy. Specific
projects in my lab involve using in vivo single unit and local field potential recordings to record neural networks within and between the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus simultaneously during tasks that require working
memory and executive attention to: 1) examine the long-lasting effects of early life insults (like seizures) on specific neural network parameters that underlie cognition, and 2) test the protective role of early treatment with neuropeptide
modulators (like the melanocortin peptides) on cognition and the underlying neural firing patterns. My lab is also interested in 3) the acute role these neuropeptides play in modulating developing neural networks. Many neuropeptide
receptors, including those for the melanocortins, are located on both neurons and glia. We are interested in how glia and neurons interact dynamically during development, how this interaction can be affected by seizures, and how neuropeptide
modulators can alter this interaction.
My work is poised to challenge a particular dogma of pediatric epilepsy treatment, namely that treating seizures is the only effective way to prevent deleterious cognitive outcomes. The potential findings of this research, therefore, have
huge implications for the way physicians treat epilepsy in children.
National Institute of Neurologic Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
2017-2019 NIH NINDS K22NS104230 (Phase I)
2019-2021 NIH NINDS K22NS104230 (Phase II)
PI: Amanda Hernan, PhD
B.S., Biology, Case Western Reserve University, 2007
B.A., Psychology, Case Western Reserve University, 2007
Ph.D., Experimental and Molecular Medicine, Dartmouth College Guarini School of Graduate and Advanced Studies, 2013
Awards and Honors:
2006: Howard Hughes Baccalaureate Fellow
2005-2007: Dean's High Honors, Case Western Reserve University
2011: Graduate travel award, Dartmouth College
2016: American Epilepsy Society Fellow
2018: Co-chair, Gordon Research
Seminar on Mechanisms of Epilepsy and Neuronal Synchronization
2019: Faculty representative, VT Chapter of SfN
Current Lab Members:
Khalil Abed Rabbo, Lab Manager
Tyra Martinez, Biology Master's student
Paul Lehmann, UVM undergraduate
Emily Tardie, UVM undergraduate
Jake Wagner, UVM undergraduate
Dominic Williams, UVM undergraduate
Kelly Lee, Summer Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Fellow, Trinity College
Andrew Massey, Undergraduate research intern, University of Bath (UK)
Laura Powers, Undergraduate researcher, UVM
Colin Villarin, Summer Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Fellow and Honors Thesis Student, UVM