Thomas Park, PhD
Professor and Associate Department Head
Building & Room:
950 S. Halsted St.
Our research focuses on the intersection of metabolism, information processing, and neurobiology using advanced technologies in non-conventional animal models such as mole-rats and bats. We are particularly interested in the molecular adaptations and genetic pathways that underlie adaptation to extreme environments. These evolved adaptions can inform us about not only fundamental questions about neurobiological organization and behavior but how these states map to multiple human pathologies. Ultimately, we hope to exploit this understanding of evolutionarily optimized solutions to translate into practical therapies for human diseases.
The primary focus of our laboratory is utilizing the naked mole-rat as a model system for explorations into its extreme hypoxia tolerance. We have discovered that the naked mole rat can endure 18 minutes in the absence of oxygen and survive without long-term brain damage. Our determination that they utilize an alternative carbon substrate, fructose, as a metabolic fuel under anoxia has wide-ranging implications not only for hypoxic research but also for fundamental insights into cancer and cardiovascular disease. We have demonstrated additional mechanisms unique to the naked mole-rat neurobiology which enables continued energetically costly neural signaling under hypoxia due to alterations in an important ion channel, the NMDA receptor, implicated in information processing and the phenomenon of long-term potentiation (LTP). Continued work is underway on both mechanisms and beyond.
In contrast to the naked mole-rat, the echolocating bat, serves as a model for hearing specialists. They rely on hearing the echoes from their own calls to navigate through their environment and to identify and localize the flying insects that they prey upon. In my lab, we study the behavior and neural information processing associated with sound localization.
(Complete list of publications on Google Scholar)
- Park TJ, Reznick J, Peterson BL, Blass G, Omerbašić D, et al (2017) Fructose-driven glycolysis supports anoxia resistance in the naked mole-rat. Science. 356(6335):307-311.
- LaVinka PC, Park TJ. (2012) Blunted behavioral and C Fos responses to acidic fumes in the African naked mole-rat. PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e45060.
- Peterson BL, Larson J, Buffenstein R, Park TJ, Fall CP (2012) Blunted neuronal calcium response to hypoxia in naked mole-rat hippocampus. PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31568. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031568. Epub 2012 Feb 21.
- Larson J and Park TJ (2009) Extreme hypoxia tolerance of naked mole-rat brain. Neuroreport 20(18): 1634-1637.
- Park TJ, Lu Y, Jüttner R, Smith ES, Hu J, Brand A, Wetzel C, Milenkovic N, Erdmann B, Heppenstall PA, Laurito CE, Wilson SP and Lewin GR (2008) Selective inflammatory pain insensitivity in the African naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber). PloS Biol 6: 156-170.
PhD, University of Maryland
MS, University of Maryland
BA, Johns Hopkins University