Neurogenetic mechanisms underlying birdsong as a model for understanding vocal function and dysfunction
My laboratory studies neurogenetic mechanisms which underlie normal and abnormal motor speech using the zebra finch songbird. My particular focus is to investigate molecular and cellular pathways altered by speech disorders associated with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease. To carry out these investigations, we use a combination of behavioral, genetic, biochemical and electrophysiological approaches that enable us to link changes at the molecular/cellular levels to alterations in neural circuits for song behavior. In addition to my laboratory studies, I have active collaborations with researchers working in a variety of mammalian species including clinicians. The end goal is to leverage the advantages offered by each species and an array of biological tools to further advance our understanding of speech mechanisms.
Dr. Miller began her research career as a high school student in Albany, NY studying cytoskeletal proteins relevant to human burn injury at Albany Medical College followed by undergraduate research studies at M.I.T. investigating mechanisms for bacterial pathogenesis. Her first exposure to the field of neuroscience took place in the laboratory of Dr. Barbara Beltz at Wellesley College where she conducted her senior thesis research on neurogenesis in the developing lobster which resulted in co-authorship on two publications. Following graduation, Julie became a pre-intramural research training award fellow in the Pain and Neurosensory Mechanisms Branch of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research at NIH. In the laboratory of Dr. Maryann Ruda, she studied molecular and behavioral sex differences in rats. Deciding to acquire yet another animal model and methodology to her tool belt, Julie conducted her Ph.D. studies in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Levine at the University of Arizona. The focus of her Ph.D. research was to characterize hormonal activation of locomotor circuits in the insect Manduca sexta using electrophysiological techniques. During her studies, she was a NIH pre-doctoral training grant fellow in Motor Control Neurobiology under Director Dr. Doug Stuart. For her postdoctoral research, Dr. Miller joined the laboratory of Dr. Stephanie White in the Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology. In Dr. White’s laboratory, she used zebra finches to investigate how vocal behavior regulates individual genes important for song/speech (FOXP2) as well as gene networks in the basal ganglia. While at UCLA, Julie was a NIH postdoctoral trainee in the Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology under Director Dr. Art Arnold and the Mental Retardation Research Center under Director Dr. Jean de Vellis. In January of 2014, she became Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences.
1.*Miller J.E., *Hafzalla G.W., Burkett Z.D, Fox C.M. and S.A. White (2015) Reduced vocal variability in a zebra finchmodel of dopamine depletion: implications for Parkinson disease. Physiol Rep, 3 (11), 2015, e12599, doi: 10.14814/phy2.12599; *equal authorship, PMID: 26564062
2. *Grant L.M., *F.R. Richter, J.E. Miller, S.A. White, C.M. Fox, M.F. Chesselet and M.R. Ciucci (2014) “Vocalization deficits in mice over-expressing alpha-synuclein, a model of pre-manifest Parkinson’s disease.” In press, Behav Neurosci .*co-first authors
3. Hilliard A.T., J.E. Miller, S. Horvath, and S.A. White (2012) “Distinct Neurogenomic States in Basal Ganglia Subregions Relate Differently to Singing Behavior in Songbirds.” PloS Comput Biol Nov 8 (11):e1002773. PMID: 23144607
4. Hilliard A.T.*, J.E. Miller*, E.R. Fraley, S. Horvath, and S.A. White (2012) “Molecular Microcircuitry Underlies Functional Specification in a Basal Ganglia Circuit Dedicated to Vocal Learning.” Neuron, Feb 9 Epub. 73: 537–552. PMID: 22325205 *co-first authors
5. Miller JE, A.T. Hilliard and S.A. White (2010) Song Practice Promotes Acute Vocal Variability at a Key Stage of Sensorimotor Learning. PLoS One Jan 6; 5(1): e8592. PMID: 20066039
6. Miller J.E., E. Spiteri, M.C. Condro, R.T. Dosumu-Johnson*, D.H. Geschwind and S.A.White (2008) Birdsong Decreases Protein Levels of FoxP2, a Molecule Required for Human Speech. J Neurophysiol 100: 2015-2025. PMID: 18701760 *undergraduate author
7. Miller J.E. and S.A. White (2007) “The Sleeping Bird Gets the Song,” Focus on ‘HVC Neural Sleep Activity Increases With Development and Parallels Nightly Changes in Song Behavior.’ J Neurophysiol 98: 3-4. PMID: 17475721
8. Miller J.E. and R.B. Levine (2006) Steroid Hormone Activation of Wandering in the Isolated Nervous System of Manduca sexta. J Comp Physiol A Sens Neur Behav 192: 1049-62. PMID: 16788816
9. Bradshaw H.B., J. Miller, Q. Ling, K. Malsnee and M.A. Ruda (2000) Sex Differences and Phases of the Estrous Cycle Alter the Response of Spinal Cord Dynorphin Neurons to Peripheral Inflammation and Hyperalgesia. Pain 85: 93-99. PMID: 10692607
10. Harzsch S., J. Miller, J. Benton and B. Beltz (1999) From Embryo to Adult: Persistent Neurogenesis and Apoptotic Cell Death Shape the Lobster Deutocerebrum.
J Neurosci 19: 3472-3485. PMID: 10212307
11. Harzsch S., J. Miller, J. Benton, R.R. Dawirs and B. Beltz (1998) Neurogenesis in the Thoracic Neuromeres of Two Crustaceans with Different Styles of Metamorphic Development J Exp Biol 201: 2465-2479, also cover illustration. PMID: 9698581.