Siena College is honored to recognize the accomplishments of Dr. James d. Angstadt as the recipient of the 2021-2022 award.
Dr. Angstadt is a neurobiologist who studies the cellular and molecular basis of behavior in “simple” invertebrate animals. He has authored or coauthored several invited review articles and over 20 peer-reviewed primary research papers. Thirteen Siena students were coauthors on publications stemming from research in his lab. Like most of these former students, Dr. Angstadt’s first research experience was as an undergraduate where he investigated the electrical properties of muscle cells controlling the enlarged claw of male fiddler crabs. His doctoral research explored the anatomy and physiology of neurons in a parasitic nematode, where he characterized calcium-based action potentials in inhibitory motor neurons.
After completing his Ph.D., Dr. Angstadt was awarded an NIH postdoctoral fellowship to support a research position at Emory University. It was here that he encountered the amazing nervous system of the medicinal leech, a preparation he has studied ever since. At Emory, he studied interneurons that control the beating and coordination of the leech’s two heart tubes. Using voltage clamp recordings, he described ionic currents flowing through two key types of voltage-gated ion channels. His work, published in two papers in the Journal of Neuroscience, served as a core data set underpinning what is now one of the most well-characterized neuronal circuits in all of neuroscience.
In 1991, Dr. Angstadt joined the Biology Department at Siena. After obtaining a National Science Foundation curriculum grant to purchase the necessary equipment, he developed a lab-based neurobiology course which continues to be offered each fall semester. He was awarded an NSF research grant to study the ionic basis of synchronized bursting activity in the leech nervous system. He showed that this rhythmic activity was supported by persistent sodium currents coupled with activation of an electrogenic metabolic pump. Supported by a second NSF grant, he then returned to the neurons underlying swimming behavior, this time with the goal of elucidating the electrical properties of motor neurons. Using a variety of pharmacological blockers and channel modulators, his experiments led to a series of papers describing voltage and calcium-activated ion channels in these as well as other neuronal types. Currently, Dr. Angstadt and his students are collaborating with colleagues at UC Berkely to map the distribution of ion channels throughout the leech nervous system by creating RNA probes that bind to the messenger RNA molecules coding for selected channel proteins. The goal is to reveal the relationship between ion channel expression patterns and the unique electrical properties of identified neurons.
Dr. Angstadt received his B.S. in Biology from Juniata College and his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.