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CU's Sloan Research Fellow

School of Medicine

A University of Colorado School of Medicine professor has been named a Sloan Research Fellow for 2013 – a prestigious award that recognizes early-career scientists.

Abigail Person, PhD, an assistant professor in CU School of Medicine’s Department of Physiology and  Biophysics, received one of the 126 Sloan Research Fellowships awarded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

“The Sloan Research Fellows are the best of the best among young scientists,” Dr. Paul L. Joskow, President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, said in a release announcing the fellows. “If you want to know where the next big scientific breakthrough will come from, look to these extraordinary men and women. The Foundation is proud to support them during this pivotal stage of their careers.”

Sloan Research Fellows are nominated by fellow scientists and selected by an independent panel of senior scholars. Fellows receive $50,000 to be used to further their research.

Person’s research interest is in understanding how the brain generates precise movements. To do so, the brain keeps track of what it is doing using specialized neural circuits called ‘corollary discharge pathways’ that carry copies of motor commands sent to muscles to areas of the brain that process sensory input. An example of how motor output influences sensory processing is clear from our everyday experiences:  We know that identical sensory inputs are processed differently depending on whether or not we caused the sensory event ourselves. If you move your eyes left to right, the image on the retina shifts, but your brain does not interpret this as the world moving in front of it, even though the sensory information it receives is the same as if the world were moving.

Brain areas that control precise movement such as the cerebellum are hypothesized to use corollary discharge information to compute rapid motor command sequences. Very little is known about how these corollary discharge pathways are organized and process information in mammals. Person’s current focus is mapping the organization of a specific corollary discharge pathway into the cerebellum and, using physiological techniques, determining its functional role in modifying sensory processing.

This kind of internal monitoring of action is thought to be important in generating precise movements, which is the focus of Person’s research. It is also likely important in understanding various mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, where there is a breakdown in the ability to differentiate self-generated events from external stimuli to the point that one senses that external forces are controlling one’s thoughts and actions. Her studies will test directly the role of corollary discharge in generating precise movements and its role in sensory processing that may underlie certain types of delusions.

The Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded in eight scientific fields – chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, evolutionary and computational molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics. The 2013 Sloan Research Fellows are drawn from 61 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada.

See Person's Colorado Profiles page >>