Fresco Institute Research | NYU Langone Health

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Division of Movement Disorders Fresco Institute Research

Fresco Institute Research

NYU Langone’s Fresco Institute for Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders brings together basic scientists, clinician–scientists, and clinicians to develop research programs related to these conditions. The relationships between basic and clinical departments at NYU Langone and research institutions in Italy create a unique community dedicated to this important mission. We also offer a basic science research grants program for early-career scientists.

The Fresco Institute engages basic researchers and clinician–scientists from NYU Langone’s Neuroscience Institute, Department of Neurology, and Department of Neurosurgery. These experts meet on a regular basis to investigate fundamental research questions in the following areas:

  • understanding the mechanisms of neurodegeneration that underlie Parkinson’s disease
  • identifying the cells and molecules that control the release of dopamine in the brain
  • uncovering the brain circuits that control the selection, initiation, and execution of voluntary movements
  • revealing how movement-related brain circuits change in Parkinson’s disease to give rise to decreased motor performance, tremor, and postural instability
  • gaining a better understanding of the nonmotor complications of Parkinson’s disease, such as depression, cognitive impairment, sleep disorders, impulse control disorders, and autonomic dysfunction
  • investigating new pharmacological and nonpharmacological therapies for motor and nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease
  • devising noninvasive neurostimulation paradigms and physical exercise routines to provide long-term improvements in motor and cognitive performance
  • developing innovative models of care that demonstrably improve quality of life for patients, caregivers, and their families

Basic Neuroscience Research

Led by Richard Tsien, PhD, scientific director of the Fresco Institute and director of the Neuroscience Institute, our basic research team investigates dopamine release, regulation, and effects on downstream neural signaling and animal behavior. Members of the basic science research team include Un Jung Kang, MD; Margaret E. Rice, PhD, and Nicolas Tritsch, PhD.

At the Fresco Institute, we research the molecular and cellular mechanisms that groups of neurons in the basal ganglia use to select, motivate, and reinforce voluntary motor actions. Our researchers take advantage of the rich clinical and basic research environments at NYU Langone. We employ a combination of advanced molecular, genetic, optical, neurochemical, and electrophysiological approaches to tackle fundamental questions about the function of the basal ganglia, as well as identify novel therapeutic targets for Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.

Rice Laboratory Research

The Rice Laboratory focuses on the dynamic local regulation of dopamine release in the striatum and midbrain. Our researchers have identified a variety of factors that modulate dopamine release from axonal and somatodendritic domains of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta and the ventral tegmental area. We use fast-scan cyclic voltammetry coupled with whole-cell patch clamp recording and fluorescence imaging to detect dopamine release. Most of our studies are conducted ex vivo in rodent brain slices to decrease the confounding influence of larger brain circuits, and to allow an isolated view of local modulation of dopamine release and uptake.

Tritsch Laboratory Research

The goal of work in the Tritsch Laboratory is to reveal how the nervous system generates movement, and to determine how disorders of movement control, such as Parkinson’s disease, corrupt this process. Current studies focus on how dopamine-releasing neurons, which play a critical role in the function of brain circuits that control movement, modulate the activity of target neurons. The Tritsch Lab employs a variety of experimental approaches, including optical, genetic, and electrophysiological tools to precisely identify neurons and stimulate, inhibit, or record from them. Dr. Tritsch discovered that dopaminergic neurons alter the activity of target cells by liberating several other chemical transmitters in addition to dopamine. His research aims to unravel the interplay and net contribution of novel signaling pathways to motor function under physiological as well as pathological conditions.

VIDEO: Meet Dr. Nicolas Tritsch and learn more about his research on Parkinson’s disease.

Kang Laboratory Research

Dr. Kang, a neurologist and neuroscientist, specializes in movement disorders including Parkinson’s disease. He is engaged in translational research to study clinically relevant issues that are most critical for improving the lives of patients and to take basic science findings back to patient care. He led the movement disorder divisions of clinicians and scientists at The University of Chicago and then at Columbia University before joining the Fresco Institute as director of translational research in 2019.

Dr. Kang’s research is a part of multidisciplinary effort by a team of basic and clinical scientists to understand the mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s disease and related movement disorders at the Fresco Institute. He pioneered experimental gene therapy approaches to replace dopamine for Parkinson’s disease, some of which are in clinical trials now. His laboratory research now focuses on understanding how brain circuitry is perturbed by the dopamine loss and by pharmacological treatment in mouse models of Parkinson’s disease.

He also studies the mechanism of the long-duration response (LDR) to levodopa treatment. LDR is the most helpful aspect of Parkinson’s disease therapy, but has not been targeted or studied. His lab proposed motor learning as the mechanism for LDR and studies underlying striatal plasticity by using state-of-the-art in vivo imaging, electrophysiology, and cell type–specific modulation. His lab also investigates mechanism of dyskinesia and discovered the central role of cholinergic interneurons and outflow structures such as substantia nigra reticulata. The same in vivo tools are used to probe the mechanism and explore therapeutic approaches. Other projects study circuitry mechanisms underlying gait and freezing and nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease such as gut dysfunction that have not been adequately addressed by the current therapies.

In addition, his lab is interested in the molecular dysfunctions that contribute to neuronal degeneration in Parkinson’s disease and translating this knowledge into Parkinson’s disease–specific biomarkers that can help us to predict, diagnose, and understand heterogeneity of Parkinson’s disease better. These tools may allow us to improve our individualized care of patients and facilitate the development of new therapies.

Neurostimulation Laboratory

The Fresco Institute’s Neurostimulation Laboratory investigates the neurophysiology of the brain in health and disease, and explores potential treatment options for neurologic and psychiatric disorders. Our research team conducts studies and clinical trials exploring potential therapeutic effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) for motor and nonmotor symptoms rehabilitation in Parkinson’s disease.

The Neurostimulation Laboratory is equipped with the NeuroStar® clinical system, the Magstim® Super Rapid 2 Plus 1 stimulator with two high-power Magstim® 200 monophasic magnetic stimulators, connected by a BiStim module for brain neurophysiology. TMS equipment is connected through a digital interface with an advanced electrophysiology acquisition and recording station. The laboratory also has a Brainsight frameless neuronavigation system and several transcranial direct current stimulators (Soterix Medical Mini-CT machines). The laboratory’s analysis software allows integration of TMS, electromyography, electroencephalography, anatomical MRI, and functional MRI data.

For motor function and gait analysis, the laboratory is equipped with a FREEEMG electromyography device with wireless probes for the dynamic analysis of muscle activity; G-WALK wearable system for the functional analysis of movement; and Mobility Lab, a full-body gait and balance analysis system.