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Psychological Sciences

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(615) 343-0239
501 Wilson Hall

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Ph.D., University of Maryland, 1966.

Ford F. Ebner

Professor of Psychology Emeritus
Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology

The brain's ability to be molded and shaped by experiences is central to the final stages of brain development. Ebner's work focuses on the fact that the brain circuits continue to be modified by experience throughout life. He seeks to understand the brain mechanisms related to sensory information processing and how they are matured by early experiences. Dr. Ebner uses a rat model in his research on the effects of early sensory experience on brain development. Rats derive much of their sensory information from their large facial whiskers, and simple trimming of the rat's whiskers early after birth produces a sensory deprivation that results in a profound disability later in life: the brains are very difficult to modify by sensory experience, especially those inputs from the deprived whiskers. Dr. Ebner also studies the effects of toxic substances, such as alcohol and dioxin, on the rate of plasticity possible in the rats after they mature. His group has shown that when fetal rats are exposed to alcohol throughout gestation due to maternal drinking, their neurons are slow to adapt to new conditions. The sluggish responses are viewed as one cause for intellectual disabilities that accompany fetal alcohol syndrome in humans. The toxin-related disabilities are thought to arise from selective failure of gene expression in the brain which is normally triggered by neural activity after the animals are born. Dr. Ebner seeks to understand the common mechanisms that link developmental disabilities with those that are caused by strokes in the mature brain. Understanding the effects these conditions have on the brain's plasticity is critically important to the treatment and rehabilitation of those who have been afflicted by these debilitating conditions.

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