Neurobiologist based at Rockefeler University is known for her work on the behavior in the C. elegans, particularly olfaction in the worm.
Cori Bargmann was awarded the Kavli Prizein 2012 and the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences in 2013. Bargmann is Torsten N. Wiesel Professor at Rockefeller University and head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior.
Bargmann is the co-chair of the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (ACD) for the BRAIN Initiative.
Rockfeller website: rockefeller.edu/research/faculty/labheads/CoriBargmann/
HHMI pages: .hhmi.org/scientists/cornelia-i-bargmann
Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior: lab.rockefeller.edu/bargmann/
Wikipedia Entry: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornelia_Bargmann
Office Phone: (212) 327-7242
Lab Phone: (212) 327-7411
Address: The Rockefeller University
1230 York Avenue
New York, NY 10065
Cornelia Isabella Bargmann was born in 1961 in Virginia and raised in Athens, Georgia, where she attended the University of Georgia. She then went north to study cancer-signalling genes and cloned the oncogene HER2, a key factor in breast cancer, in the laboratory of Robert Weinberg at the Whitehead Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
After receiving her Ph.D. in 1987, Professor Bargmann transferred to the laboratory of H. Robert Horvitz, at MIT, where she became acquainted with the tiny worm C. elegans. Professor Horvitz had already made major contributions to understanding neural development using C. elegans as a simple model organism. For this he shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Sydney Brenner and John Sulston “for their discoveries concerning genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death”. Professor Bargmann then embarked upon what was to become a lifetime mission to define how genes and the environment influence behavior by dissecting the neural circuitry of C. elegans and the genes, receptors and signaling molecules involved in such behaviour as feeding and responses to odours.
In 1995 California beckoned, and Cornelia Bargmann took up an appointment as assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco. In 1998, she was promoted to Professor, and in 1999 was named vice chair of the Department of Anatomy. In 2004 she returned to the east coast to take up the position of head of the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behaviour at Rockefeller University, New York, where she is now Torsten N. Weasel Professor and a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator. Rockefeller University president Paul Nurse welcomed her arrival saying, “Cori Bargmann typifies the Rockefeller scientist: she is bold and highly original in her thinking and her approach to studying the brain and other components of the nervous system”.
Professor Bargmann has received numerous awards, including the Charles Judson Herrick Award for comparative neurology in 2000, the Dargut and Milena Kemali International Prize for Research in the Field of Basic and Clinical Neurosciences in 2004, and the Richard Lounsbery Award from the US and French National Academies of Sciences in 2009. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the European Molecular Biology Organisation.
Professor Bargmann has trained many students and postdocs in cutting-edge techniques and encouraged them to share her enthusiasm for research. She is as renowned for the quality of her presentations and breadth of knowledge as for her research.
An animal’s behavior arises from the interplay between its environment, its experience, and intrinsic properties of its neural circuits. To understand how genetic networks encode the potential of the nervous system, we are studying nervous system development and behavior in the nematode C. elegans.
How do animals detect and respond to a sensory stimulus? C. elegans senses hundreds of different odors, discriminates between them, and generates different behaviors in response to different odors. We can define the specific neurons that generate these behaviors, since the C. elegans nervous system consists of just 302 neurons with reproducible functions and synaptic connections. In C. elegans, as in other animals, odors are detected by G protein-coupled odorant receptors. A given sensory neuron is primarily dedicated to a single behavioral task, such as attraction or repulsion. Activation of a sensory neuron is sufficient to generate a characteristic behavior – indeed, artificial activation of a neuron can generate a completely artificial behavior to novel stimuli. We are asking how sensory signaling pathways and downstream neurons encode the flexible behavioral responses to sensory cues.
C. elegans shows unexpected sophistication in its behavior when challenged with complex stimuli that are present in the soil environment, such as pathogenic bacteria, other animals, and changes in oxygen levels. We are identifying genes and circuits for these navigation behaviors, and asking how sensory inputs regulate those circuits.
Much of the function of the nervous system is specified by its structure – the precise synaptic connections between neurons in circuits. We are studying the development of neural circuits by characterizing pathways for axon guidance, synapse formation, and neuronal differentiation. We are using genetic methods to study highly conserved signaling pathways for dorsal-ventral and anterior-posterior axon guidance. We have identified cell interactions between neurons and non-neuronal cells that direct synapses to form at precise locations during development. Finally, we have learned that signaling between neurons at the synapse can feed back onto neuronal differentiation to generate sensory diversity in the olfactory system.
Stable neural circuits in the brain can generate a vast array of flexible behavioral responses. This behavioral diversity arises from the interplay of genes, the nervous system, the environment, and experience. We study these relationships in the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans, where we can define the circuits for specific behaviors in detail. The nervous system of C. elegans consists of just 302 neurons with reproducible functions, morphologies, and synaptic connections. At some level, the map of neuronal connectivity encodes the behavioral potential of the animal. We use this map to study the roles of neurons in behaviors, the functions of genes that affect neuronal development and behavior, and the performance of this neuronal network under different conditions.
iBiology Seminar presentations
In her first talk, Cori Bargmann explains how individual genes can affect the brain and behavior. Humans are complex creatures, but as many as 99% of our genes are shared with simpler organisms. By focusing on the genes for a family of proteins found in many organisms, the G protein-coupled receptors, Bargmann illustrates that mutations in a single gene can cause significant behavioral changes in organisms as diverse as nematodes, dogs and humans. In Part 2, Bargmann presents work from her own lab in which the olfactory system in C. elegans was used to dissect the role of genes on behavior. She shows us how it was possible to map the neuronal circuits that modulate worm behavior in response to different odors.
BRAIN Initiative work