History of Behavioral Neuroscience

The Department of Behavioral Neuroscience is one of six basic science departments in the School of Medicine at Oregon Health Sciences University. It was originally established in 1957 under the leadership of Joseph D. Matarazzo, Ph.D. (CV), as a freestanding medical school division (Division of Medical Psychology) affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry. Four years later (1961), the school's Executive faculty unanimously recommended conversion of the division into a basic science department, thus completing the process of establishing the first Department of Medical Psychology within a medical school in the United States (see Matarazzo, 1994).

From the outset, the department assumed the responsibilities of a basic science department, emphasizing its role in teaching, research and research training, in addition to providing clinical services. The appointment of several experimental-physiological psychologists in the early 1960s fostered the initial development of a Ph.D. program in biopsychology. These faculty included Drs. Richard F. Thompson, Judson S. Brown, Robert D. Fitzgerald, David S. Phillips, Robert W. Goy, Charles H. Phoenix, and F. Robert Brush. The department admitted its first doctoral students in 1964 and these initial students were awarded their Ph.D. degrees in 1968 and 1969. Since that time, the department's graduate training program has continued to grow and develop while maintaining a strong focus in areas of research that fall under the broad heading of behavioral neuroscience. To date, the program has awarded 59 M.S. degrees and 103 Ph.D. degrees. The majority of these students have gone on to pursue successful academic and research careers.

The department's faculty has been quite successful in obtaining external support for its research and research training programs. Of particular significance is the fact that the department has had continuous federal research training grant support from one or more of the institutes affiliated with the NIH for more than 30 years. At present, the department administers three such training programs. One program (Biological Bases of Alcoholism), funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), is currently in its 35th year. The second program (Biological Bases of Drug Seeking Behavior), funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is currently in its 29th year.  The most recently funded program (Neuroscience of Aging, Neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s Disease), funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), is currently in its 4th year. These grants provide stipend and other support for a total of 9 postdoctoral fellows and 16 graduate students affiliated with the graduate program in Behavioral Neuroscience or the interdepartmental Neuroscience graduate program. Another significant factor in the department's overall research effort is the presence of the Portland Alcohol Research Center (PARC) funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) as well as the Methamphetamine Abuse Research Center (MARC).  These Centers, directed by John Crabbe, Ph.D. and Aaron Janowsky, Ph.D., involves about 20 faculty investigators working at OHSU, Portland State University and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center . Many of these individuals have faculty appointments in the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience. The support provided by the Center grants is approximately $10 million. The department faculty has also been notably successful in obtaining support for individual research grants from a variety of sources, although most funds come from either the NIH or Veteran's Administration. In 2008, the total number of research and research training dollars awarded to the department's faculty exceeded $10.9 million. The research supported by these funds provides an outstanding context for the research training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

After a formal internal review process, the Faculty Council of the School of Medicine reaffirmed the strong basic science role played by the department's faculty by approving a recommendation to reorganize (and rename) the department as "Behavioral Neuroscience" in March, 1996. This reorganization involved an increased focus on the department's role in teaching, research training and basic research, with the gradual elimination of its role in clinical training and clinical service. The department's new name quite accurately reflects its unique commitment within the medical school to teach and conduct research in an effort to improve our understanding of the neurobiological bases of behavior. Dr. Christopher Cunningham served as the Interim Department Chair between 1996 and 2000. Dr. Robert Hitzemann was appointed Department Chair in 2000. More information about the department's current programs can be found on other pages at this web site.