The William Scheibel Chair In Neuroscience

Stephanie White, Ph.D.

Professor Stephanie White is an expert on how social interactions influence the brain, beginning with her doctoral research at Stanford with Russ Fernald, studying social interactions, stress and reproductive plasticity. This work integrated behavioral, physiological and molecular mechanisms within a systems biology framework. She conducted postdoctoral work at Duke with Rich Mooney where she studied social influences on vocal learning, a key component of speech and language, by investigating song control circuitry in songbirds. She added electrophysiological approaches to her toolkit and pioneered gene manipulation in the songbird brain using modified viruses. At UCLA, her research group investigates vocal learning and the underlying neural circuitry in order to understand speech and language deficits in disorders such as autism and in the human KE family bearing a mutation in the FOXP2 transcription factor. Their discoveries show that songbirds can be used to uncover factors that contribute to human vocal learning. A key facet of their approach is to use behavioral manipulations to drive changes in the expression of suites of genes, including FoxP2, within song control circuitry. This led to a comprehensive analysis of transcription patterns in the adult basal ganglia which identified behavior-driven gene modules (so-named ‘song modules’). They replicated the song-module finding in juvenile birds and then identified learning-related modules for the first time in the field of learned vocalizations.

Dr. White’s interest in the social influences on the brain extends to her education and training philosophy. This includes best practices for creating an active-learning environment in which mentees can thrive and grow at their own pace. Under-represented and majority undergraduates from the lab (>65) have gone on to Stanford’s, Emory’s and Northwestern’s Neuroscience Programs and Harvard’s MSTP, among others. In addition to her own trainees, she served as co-Director of the Grass Laboratories and thus mentored graduate and postdoctoral fellows at the Marine Biological Labs in Woods Hole for 15 weeks each summer from 2009-11. There, she currently co-directs the Neural Systems & Behavior course each June and July. As chair of UCLA’s undergraduate Neuroscience Interdepartmental Program, she is responsible for the training of >800 STEM undergraduates and serves as the Assistant Director for Undergraduate Education for the Brain Research Institute.