Sara N. Burke, Ph.D.

Burke, SaraAssistant Professor

Department of Neuroscience
University of Florida
1149 Newell Drive
PO Box 100244
Gainesville, FL  32611-0244
Email:              burkes@ufl.edu
Office Phone:  (352) 294-4979
Lab Members:  Burke Lab 

Education:

2000 MS
(Psychology)
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR
2009 PhD
(Neuroscience & Pharmacology)
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ
2009-2013 Postdoctoral Fellowship
(Neural Systems, Memory & Aging)
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ

Key Words: Aging, Entorhinal Cortex, Hippocampus, Memory, Neurophysiology, Perirhinal Cortex

Research Summary:

Although a majority of the 44 million Americans over the age of 65 will experience cognitive or physical decline that interferes with their quality of life, understanding the loss of function in the brain that produces impairments in advanced age remains elusive. A significant barrier to uncovering the neurobiology of age-related cognitive decline is that no single brain region supports complex behavior in isolation, and old age affects different brain regions in distinct ways. Thus, attempts to correct impairments in one brain area may actually exacerbate dysfunction in other regions, blocking the restoration of normal behavior. Furthermore, a fundamental gap exists in our understanding of how these brain structures interact over the lifespan, and how this relates to cognitive and physical abilities. Thus, in order to design therapeutic strategies for maintaining function in the elderly, it is imperative that we understand how different brain regions communicate with each other in support of behavior, and how this is altered by old age. The long-term goals of my NIH-funded research program are to 1) pinpoint alterations in how different brain regions communicate over the lifespan and how this contributes to loss of function in advanced age, and 2) to design therapeutic strategies for alleviating cognitive dysfunction in order to promote positive health outcomes in the elderly. To answer these questions, my lab integrates data across multiple levels of analysis that includes neurophysiology, gene expression, anatomy and behavioral assays. Using these integrative approaches, current projects in my laboratory are focused on uncovering mechanisms of age-related impairments in hippocampal-dependent sensory discrimination across modalities in normal aging and a novel model of tau pathology (Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program), identifying age-associated changes in medial temporal lobe-prefrontal functional connectivity that contribute to memory deficits (1R01AG049722; 1R21AG051004), and testing whether diet can globally improve neural network function in old animals (pilot grant sub-award of P30AG028740). Our rationale is that by elucidating how aging influences systems-level dynamics, we will be better positioned to develop interventions that broadly improve cognition and everyday living.

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