UCI neuroscientist Tallie Z. Baram receives prestigious Cotzias award from American Academy of Neurology

Past recipients include Nobel laureates and National Academy of Sciences members  

March 28, 2018

Tallie Z. Baram, MD, PhD, the Danette D. Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine and director of the UCI Conte Center on Brain Programming in Adolescent Vulnerabilities, will be honored with the American Academy of Neurology’s 2018 Cotzias Lecture and Award during the organization’s 70th annual meeting, April 21-27, in Los Angeles. 

"I’m thrilled to receive the Cotzias award in recognition of the work we’re doing here at UCI, particularly as it pertains to mental and cognitive development of the brain," said Baram, a professor of pediatrics, neurology, and anatomy and neurobiology 

The highest award bestowed by the American Academy of Neurology, the Cotzias Lecture and Award is named for George C. Cotzias, MD, (1918-1977), who together with colleagues, developed L-Dopa treatment, the most commonly used intervention for Parkinson's disease. The academy has recognized seven Nobel laureates, as well as members of the National Academy of Sciences and National Institutes of Health institute directors, since the lecture and award were established in 1978. 

Baram said when she was notified of the award, "I was surprised, as I was not aware of my nomination, and truly humbled. It is a great and unexpected honor."

She will deliver the lecture, "How Early-Life Experiences Sculpt Your Brain," at the meeting’s Presidential Plenary Session on Sunday, April 22. Her groundbreaking research examines how such experiences, specifically stress or seizures, influence the function of brain cells, essentially by re-programming them. This influences how they assemble into precise brain circuits, which affects development and also vulnerability or resilience to mental illness.

Baram’s research has received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and her contributions have been recognized with prestigious awards, including the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Javits Merit Award, American Epilepsy Society’s Basic Science Research Award and the Bernard Sachs Award from the Child Neurology Society. She has chaired the NIH Developmental Brain Disorders study section and is the principal investigator of one of two NIH-funded T32 training grants focused on epilepsy. Baram has had a long commitment to mentoring and is a mentor for several currently funded NIH K awards. 

In 2013, Baram received a $10-million Silvio O. Conte Center grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to establish an interdisciplinary program to explore how patterns —including the unpredictability of maternal and environmental signals before and after birth — may influence the vulnerability of infants, children and adolescents to cognitive and emotional problems.

"We want to help answer the question that has been a topic of intense investigation for decades," she said. "We know that signals from the environment are important for maturation of the brain. For example, light is crucial for maturation of the visual system, and sound patterns for the maturation of the brain’s hearing circuits. What are the early signals that affect the maturation of emotional and pleasure brain circuits? How do these experiences shape the brain for life? This complex problem requires a multidisciplinary approach that involves both animal and human research."

Conte Center grants, which are rarely bestowed, support innovative, multidisciplinary and highly promising approaches to ‘big’ questions that address normal and aberrant brain structure and function, thus advancing the understanding and treatment of mental health disorders.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and it is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.

Media contact: John Murray, 714-456-7759, jdmurray@uci.edu