New BBS Professor Explores Circuits That Control Memory

Dr. Catherine A. Thorn, an expert on the neuroscience of memory, learning and habit formation, has joined the faculty of The University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS).

Thorn’s work on dissecting synaptic plasticity across multiple memory systems aligns with the school’s goal to lead the way on neuropsychosocial health, the science of learning and neurotechnology, said Dr. James Bartlett, Ashbel Smith Professor and interim dean of BBS.

“Dr. Thorn personifies the BBS mission to engage in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research,” Bartlett said. “Her engineering background makes her a natural collaborator with bioengineering faculty, and she has already organized a cross-disciplinary team of investigators for a collaborative National Institutes of Health grant.”

Dr. James Bartlett

Thorn earned her bachelor’s degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and her doctoral degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Though both degrees were in engineering, her dissertation and postdoctoral research examined the coordination of multiple memory systems in the brain using multiple levels of analysis, from electrophysiological recordings in single synapses to large computational analyses.

Dr. Christa McIntyre, associate professor of psychology and director of the Neurobiology of Memory Lab, believes Thorn fits in well with her colleagues in both systems and cognitive neuroscience.

“Her expertise in electrophysiology, optogenetics and pharmacology approaches to understanding synaptic plasticity are well-aligned with the interests of systems neuroscience, while her investigations of the interactions of multiple memory systems relate to the interests of her colleagues who focus on cognitive neuroscience,” McIntyre said.

Thorn received postdoctoral training both in academia at Brown University and in industry at Pfizer.

“Her combination of experiences has prepared her for carrying out research with a realistic plan for translation,” Bartlett said.

Among her first roles at the University is offering a new seminar introducing graduate students to emerging methods in neuroscience.

“I was drawn to UT Dallas by its established strengths in engineering and science, by the dynamic nature of the young university, and by the impressive research and collegiality of my colleagues in behavioral and brain sciences,” Thorn said. “I’m very excited to be here.”


New Tenure-Track Faculty

Dr. Catherine A. Thorn

Dr. Catherine A. Thorn, assistant professor of neuroscience

Previously: postdoctoral fellow, Pfizer; postdoctoral fellow, Brown University

Research Interests: How the cortex, basal ganglia and related structures support motor learning and habit formation; neuromodulatory mechanisms of skill learning; dynamic coordination of multiple memory systems

Quote: “Why do people behave in certain ways? Often, the answer lies in the habits we form throughout a lifetime. My lab uses animal models of skill learning to study how habits are initially formed and how they can be modified once they become maladaptive. It’s an exciting area of research precisely because habits influence so much of our human experience — from learning to walk or ride a bike or throw a baseball, to overcoming addiction and mental illness.”


New Faculty Series

News Center is publishing profiles of tenured and tenure-track professors who have recently joined the University. The following school profiles have been published:

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

Tagged: BBS