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Faculty
Faculty

Thomas Heinbockel

Professor & Interim Chair

  • Anatomy
  • College of Medicine

Biography

Thomas Heinbockel, Ph.D., is currently Professor and Interim Chair in the Department of Anatomy, Howard University College of Medicine, Washington, DC, USA.  Dr. Heinbockel’s laboratory engages in multidisciplinary research to elucidate organizational principles of neural systems in the brain, specifically the limbic and olfactory system.  His research has been directed at understanding brain mechanisms of information processing and their relation to neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.  Dr. Heinbockel studied biology at the Philipps-University, Marburg, Germany.  His studies of the brain started during his M.S. thesis work at the Max-Planck-Institute for Behavioral Physiology, Starnberg/Seewiesen, Germany.  Subsequently, he completed a Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.  After graduating, he was Research Associate at the Institute of Physiology, Otto-von-Guericke-University School of Medicine, Magdeburg, Germany.  Prior to his arrival at Howard University, Dr. Heinbockel held joint research faculty appointments in the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology and the Department of Physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.  He still maintains an adjunct appointment in these departments.

Education & Expertise

Education

Neuroscience

Ph.D.
University of Arizona
1997

Expertise

Neuroscience

• Translational medicine
• Drug discovery
• Neural signaling and synaptic transmission in the central nervous system
• Functional organization of the olfactory and limbic system
• Cellular and network mechanisms of brain function and dysfunction studied with electrophysiological, optical, anatomical, and pharmacological methods

Editorial Activities
• Fall 2021 - present: Book editor, Neurophysiology. London, United Kingdom: IntechOpen
• Fall 2021 - present: Guest Editor, Frontiers in Bioscience-Scholar, Special Issue “Mechanisms of Neurological Disorders”
• Fall 2021 - present: Book editor, COVID-19, Neuroimmunology and Neural Function. London, United Kingdom: IntechOpen
• Summer 2021 - present: Guest Editor, Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark, Special Issue “Cellular and Network Mechanisms of Brain Function”
• Spring 2021 - present: Editorial Board, Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark
• Spring 2021 - present: Editorial Board, Frontiers in Bioscience-Scholar
• Fall 2020 - Summer 2022: Topic Editor, Frontiers in Neural Circuits, Research Topic "Physiology and Pathophysiology of the Olfactory System"
• Fall 2020 - Spring 2022: Special Issue Editor, International Journal of Molecular Sciences (IJMS), Special Issue "Mechanisms of Olfactory and Gustatory Sense and
Their Regeneration"
• Fall 2020 - present: Book editor, Epigenetics to Optogenetics – A New Paradigm in the Study of Biology. London, United Kingdom: IntechOpen.
• Summer 2020 - Spring 2021: Book editor, Connectivity and Functional Specialization in the Brain. ISBN: 978-1-83962-797-2. London, United Kingdom:
IntechOpen. Available from: https://www.intechopen.com/books/9853
• Spring 2020 - Spring 2022: Editorial Board, Longhua Chinese Medicine
• Spring 2019 - Fall 2020: Book editor, Sino-Nasal and Olfactory System Disorders. ISBN: 978-1-83880-951-5. London, United Kingdom: IntechOpen. Available
from: https://www.intechopen.com/books/sino-nasal-and-olfactory-system-disord…
• Summer 2019 - Spring 2020: Guest Editor, Brain Sciences, Special Issue "Neural Signaling and Synaptic Transmission"
• Summer 2019 - present: Topical Advisory Panel member, Brain Sciences
• Fall 2018 - present: Reviewer Board, Cells
• Spring 2018 - 10/2019: Book editor, Neurochemical Basis of Brain Function and Dysfunction. Print ISBN: 978-1-78985-999-7, eBook (PDF) ISBN: 978-1-83880-
025-3. London, United Kingdom: IntechOpen. Available from: https://www.intechopen.com/books/neurochemical-basis-of-brain-function-…
• Spring 2018 - Winter 2019: Book editor, Histology, ISBN: 978-1-78984-971-4. London, United Kingdom: IntechOpen. Available from:
https://www.intechopen.com/books/histology
• Summer 2017 - present: Editor, Translational Neuroscience
• Summer 2017 - present: Member, Editorial Board, Digital Chinese Medicine
• Spring 2017 - 7/2018: Book editor, Sensory Nervous System, ISBN: 978-1-78923-359-9. London, United Kingdom: IntechOpen. Available from:
https://www.intechopen.com/books/sensory-nervous-system
• Spring 2016 - 5/2017: Book editor, Synaptic Plasticity, ISBN 978-953-51-5036-7. Rijeka, Croatia: IntechOpen. Available from:
https://www.intechopen.com/books/synaptic-plasticity/
• Summer 2015 - present: Review Editor on the Editorial Board of Frontiers in Neuropharmacology, a specialty journal of Frontiers in Neurology, Neuroscience,
Pharmacology and Psychiatry
• 2015 - present: Member of the Editorial Advisory Board, Intech Open Access Publisher
• Spring 2013 - 4/2014: Book editor, Neurochemistry, ISBN 978-953-51-1237-2. Rijeka, Croatia: IntechOpen. Available from:
http://www.intechopen.com/books/neurochemistry
• Fall 2011 - 5/2012: Book editor, Neuroscience, ISBN 978-953-51-0617-3. Rijeka, Croatia: IntechOpen. Available from:
http://www.intechopen.com/books/neuroscience
• Fall 2009 - 2019: Managing Editor of the journal Frontiers in Bioscience

Research

Research

Specialty

Neuroscience; cellular and network mechanisms of brain function studied with electrophysiological, optical, anatomical, and pharmacological methods; neural signaling and synaptic transmission; drug discovery & development

Group Information

Major Research Interests

  • Cellular and network mechanisms of brain function studied with electrophysiological, optical, anatomical, and pharmacological methods
  • Neural signaling and synaptic transmission in the central nervous system
  • Functional organization of the olfactory and limbic system
  • Drug discovery and development

 

Research in my lab is aimed at elucidating organizational principles of neural systems in the brain using electrophysiological and anatomical methods. In particular, we are interested in the functional organization of the limbic and olfactory system.

In the limbic system our research activities have been centered on a subcortical structure of the vertebrate brain, the amygdala, a key brain site for emotion, fear, learning and memory. The amygdala is essential for developing an inner view of the outside sensory world and is thought to be one of the key structures for the interpretation of sensory information associated with motivation and emotion. The main goal of this line of work is to reveal functions of the amygdala at the cellular and network level and to integrate this knowledge into the functioning of higher order brain systems. Research on the amygdala includes topics such as synaptic transmission, neuromodulation, synaptic plasticity as well mechanisms for generating rhythmic and epileptiform activity.

Olfaction is a fundamental sensory modality and provides us with some of our emotionally most stimulating and lasting memories, yet many of the mysteries of this modality, from the molecular to the systems level, still remain unknown. In addition, the olfactory pathway is unique in sending sensory information directly to the cortex and areas involved in emotion and memory (amygdala, limbic areas), and bypassing the thalamus as an intermediary step. In a rodent olfactory bulb slice preparation my lab uses patch clamp electrophysiology and imaging techniques to characterize biophysical, cellular and synaptic properties of neurons. The olfactory bulb is the first central relay station for olfactory information conveyed from the nasal epithelium by olfactory receptor neurons. The olfactory bulb contains output neurons (mitral and tufted cells) that transmit olfactory information to higher order olfactory structures and to other brain systems. The relay from the nose to mitral and tufted cells is strongly regulated by local intrabulbar circuitry, including inhibitory granule cells, and by centrifugal inputs to the olfactory bulb from other parts of the brain. Questions that we address include: How do intrinsic and synaptic neuronal properties relate to information coding and neural network function of this system? What is the functional role of different neurotransmitter receptors (ionotropic and metabotropic) on these cell types? How do the various neuromodulator systems within the olfactory bulb and from centrifugal fibers shape the response to olfactory nerve input, as well as synaptic output to higher brain centers? My research on both the olfactory and limbic system has been directed at understanding mechanisms of information processing that form the basis of persistent functional changes in these systems and their relation to neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders.

Accomplishments

Accomplishments

Honors and Awards

• Judge Travel Award for the 2019 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), Anaheim, CA, November 13-16, 2019. (declined)

• Graduate Faculty Research Exemplar. Recognition for distinguished scholarship, service and support of doctoral education and research, Howard University Graduate School, May 9, 2019

• D1 Lecturer of the Year, Howard University College of Dentistry (HUCD) Student Council, April 10, 2019 (Citation: This award is given to the lecturer that the first-year dental students recognize who stands above all others in their duties at HUCD. This person creates a positive learning environment, provides relevant information, and provides lectures using convenient and contemporary methods. Most importantly, this person has played an integral role in preparing students best for their boards and clinical practice.)

• Judge Travel Award for the 2017 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS), Phoenix, AZ, November 1-4, 2017. Registration, travel, and housing paid directly by ASM/ABRCMS plus travel expenses.

• Certificate in Leadership, ‘Professional Mentoring Skills Enhancing Diversity (PROMISED)’, University of Pittsburgh, Institute for Clinical Research Education, Clinical and Translational Science Institute, July 7, 2017

• Research Symposium Winner ‘In Recognition of Most Outstanding Presentation in the Area of Biological & Biomedical Sciences in the Senior Faculty Category’ (Heinbockel T, Wang ZJ: Reversible Firing Pattern Transformation in Central Olfactory Neurons), Howard University Research Symposium 2017, Washington, DC April 13, 2017

• Research Travel Award as an Overall Winner in the Senior Faculty Category ($1,500), Howard University Research Symposium 2017, Washington, DC April 13, 2017

• National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) Fellow, 2016 - 2017

• Research Symposium Winner ‘In Recognition of Most Outstanding Presentation in the Area of Biological & Biomedical Sciences in the Senior Faculty Category’ (Heinbockel T, Wang ZJ, ‘Cannabinoid-mediated neural plasticity in central olfactory neurons’). Howard University Research Week 2016, Washington, DC April 14, 2016

• Travel Award to attend the second annual Training Course in Neurotherapeutics Discovery and Development for Academic Scientists, supported by NIH/NINDS Grant 1R25NS077582, directed by the University of California, Davis, Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute, Harvard NeuroDiscovery Center, Northwestern University, in collaboration with the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics, February 19-22, 2014 in Bethesda, MD

• Travel Award to attend the 13th RCMI International Symposium on Health Disparities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, December 10-13, 2012, NIH-NIMHD RCMI Program (NIH National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Centers in Minority Institutions)

• Faculty Author Certificate in Recognition of Work Published during 2011-12, The President of Howard University & The Provost of Howard University (the program ended that year)

• Faculty Author Certificate in Recognition of Work Published during 2010-11, The President of Howard University & The Provost of Howard University

• Abstract Competition, 3rd place, Senior Faculty, Howard University College of Medicine Research Day 2010, ‘Scientific Discoveries, Cures & Translational Medicine’, Washington, DC, April 30, 2010, $500 – Travel Award

• Faculty Author Certificate in Recognition of Work Published during 2009-10, The President of Howard University & The Provost of Howard University

• Faculty Author Certificate in Recognition of Work Published during 2008-09, The President of Howard University & The Provost of Howard University

• Faculty Author Certificate in Recognition of Work Published during 2007-08, The President of Howard University & The Provost of Howard University

• Faculty Author Certificate in Recognition of Work Published during 2006-07, The President of Howard University & The Provost of Howard University

• Howard University Merit Award 2007, The President of Howard University

• Faculty Author Certificate in Recognition of Work Published during 2005-06, The President of Howard University & The Provost of Howard University

• Travel Grant, Howard University Fund for Academic Excellence Grants Program, Proposal: “Opportunities for Teaching and Research in Neuroscience”, July 1, 2005 to July 30, 2006

• Faculty Author Certificate in Recognition of Work Published during 2004-05, The President of Howard University & The Provost of Howard University

• National Institute of Drug Abuse Travel Award to attend and present an invited poster at the 2004 NIDA Mini-Convention: Frontiers in Addiction Research; Young Investigators Poster Session, San Diego, CA

• Bressler Fund Award, University of Maryland School of Medicine 2004-2005

• First prize for the best hands-on activity “The Incredible Eatable Neuron” at Baltimore BrainsRule! supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Maryland Higher Education Commision, 2004

• Bressler Fund Award, University of Maryland School of Medicine, 2002-2003

• ECRO Travel Fellowship from the Association for Chemoreception Sciences (AChemS) to attend the 2002 meeting of the European Chemoreception Organization (ECRO)

• Travel Grant from SIGMA XI, The Scientific Research Society, The University of Arizona Chapter, 1996

• Incentive Travel Award Program Fellowship from the Graduate College, University of Arizona, 1995

• Sensory Science Scholarship for 1995-1996 in honor of the memory of Professor Rose Marie Pangborn

• Travel Award from the Graduate and Professional Student Council, The University of Arizona, 1995

• Robert S. Flinn Fellow, Flinn Biology*21 Graduate Fellowship for the Spring of 1995

• Second Place at Student Showcase '94, Graduate Division in Biological, Biomedical, and Health Sciences, The University of Arizona

• Graduate Registration Scholarship from the Committee on Neuroscience, University of Arizona, for Fall of 1994

Honors and Awards for Members of the Heinbockel Laboratory

• Eugene Park, second-year medical student, Research Symposium Winner ‘In Recognition of Most Outstanding Presentation in the Area of Biological & Biomedical Sciences in the Professional Student Category’ (Park E, Austin PT, Wang ZJ, Heinbockel T: Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors and GABA Receptors Regulate Firing Properties in Mitral Cells of the Mouse Main Olfactory Bulb), Howard University Research Symposium 2017, Washington, DC April 13, 2017

• Eugene Park, second-year medical student, Research Travel Award as an Overall Winner in the professional student category ($1,500), Howard University Research Symposium 2017, Washington, DC April 13, 2017

• Zejun Wang, Research Assistant Professor, Research Symposium Winner ‘In Recognition of Most Outstanding Presentation in the Area of Biological & Biomedical Sciences in the Junior Faculty/Lecturer/Instructor Category’, (Wang ZJ, Levinson S, Heinbockel T: Specific Interaction of Amphiphiles with Sodium Channels), Howard University Research Symposium 2017, Washington, DC April 13, 2017

• Shaina N. Reid (Ph.D. student in Heinbockel-lab), 1st place, Category: Graduate Students; Howard University Health Sciences Research Day 2012, $2,500.00 [Reid SN, Heinbockel T (2012) Neuromodulation of cortical neurons in the anterior olfactory nucleus]

• Hui-Zhi Du (postdoc in Heinbockel-lab), Poster Presentation Winner, 3rd place, Howard University Graduate School Research Symposium 2011, Division 6 - Post Doctoral & Professional Schools, $50 [Du H-Z, Heinbockel T (2011) Activity modulation of cortical neurons in the anterior olfactory nucleus through cannabinoid receptor CB1R]

• Liqin Sun (postdoc in Heinbockel-lab), Poster Presentation Winner, 3rd place, Howard University Annual Research Symposium and Honors Day 2010, Division VI - Post Doctoral & Professional Schools, $50 [Sun L, Wang Z, Jackson PL, Scott KR, Heinbockel T (2010) A substituted anilino enaminone acts as a novel positive allosteric modulator of GABAA receptors in the mouse brain].

• Zejun Wang (postdoc in Heinbockel-lab), Poster Presentation Winner, 2nd place, Howard University Annual Research Symposium and Honors Day 2010, Division VI - Post Doctoral & Professional Schools, $75 [Wang Z, Sun L, Heinbockel T (2010) Cannabinoid receptor-mediated regulation of neuronal activity in the main olfactory bulb].