The proposed training program is designed to meet the needs of an emerging discipline, and one reflecting the inherent similarities and distinctions among sensory systems. Surprisingly, this rapidly growing discipline of multisensory integration has a paucity of formal training opportunities and the present program offers a unique environment in which to meet this need at both the pre- and postdoctoral levels. Though its curriculum incorporates traditional topics relating to the development, organization, and perception/behavior derived from sensory processing in the different senses, the training program uniquely emphasizes the way in which sensory systems interact to markedly enhance or degrade the physiological salience of external events. Though bound together by common interests in hearing, the faculty provides expertise in each of the senses and, most importantly, has strong expertise in multisensory integration. Students in Neurobiology and Anatomy and the Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience are eligible. The training program offers a singular experience in topics such as neuropharmacology, electrophysiology, modern neuroanatomy and immunohistochemistry, computational neuroscience, development, cognition, psychophysics, behavior, and hands-on experience with a variety of laboratory techniques. These are normally covered in a generic manner, but are addressed here in the context of how individual sensory modalities process sensory information and the mechanisms that underlie their synergistic function. Students rotate through laboratories to gain in-depth experience in several sensory systems, but also have mini-courses to give them practical experience in techniques beyond those they may use for a current research project. All students and faculty participate in a seminar series and journal club that is topic-keyed to the core courses in Sensory Neuroscience, ensuring continuing broad intellectual and collegial interactions. Students are exposed to training opportunities and experts that offer advice regarding career paths in addition to traditional tenure-track academic positions. The training faculty is a relatively small group of investigators involved in broad collaborative interactions providing a highly cooperative and rich interactive environment for trainees. A major focus for the training program continues to be the recruitment of underrepresented minorities.
Despite traditional emphasis on individual senses, there is growing appreciation that brains are inherently multisensory, and growing evidence that anomalies of multisensory integration contribute to a host of developmental and age-related disorders. These include, dyslexia, sensory processing disorder, and autism. Multisensory therapeutic regimens may better ameliorate the sensory deficits associated with acute brain trauma (e.g., neglect following stroke), and training programs emphasizing interactions among senses are essential to promote a better understanding of the debilitating effects of disease and the strategies necessary to ameliorate them.
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