Susan M. Barman

Susan M. Barman

85th APS President (2012-2013)
Susan M. Barman
(b. 1949)

Introducing Susan M. Barman

Susan M. Barman is a Professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology (PHM/TOX) in the College of Human Medicine (CHM) and in the Neuroscience Program at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, MI. Amongst her leadership roles at MSU, she is currently Chair of CHM Graduate Studies Committee; and she is Chair of the PHM/TOX Faculty Advisory Committee, a position to which her colleagues have elected her to serve in 11 of the past 14 years. Barman also recently served as Vice-Chair and then Chair of the MSU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. She is a recipient of the Outstanding University Woman Faculty Award from the Faculty Professional Women’s Association of MSU and a CHM Distinguished Faculty Award.

Barman received her PhD in Physiology from Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood, IL in 1976. She completed her doctoral research on spinal cord control of sympathetic nerve activity and regional blood flow under the direction of Robert D. Wurster.  Barman did her postdoctoral work in the laboratory of the late Gerard L. Gebber in the Department of Pharmacology at MSU. She remained there and became an Assistant Professor in 1979; she was the first woman to reach the rank of Professor in that department. Her collaborative research with Gebber on brainstem control of sympathetic nerve activity continued for 33 years until his death. Barman has authored or co-authored 96 peer-reviewed journal articles, including 75 in APS journals, and 33 invited reviews, book chapters, or editorials. She is a co-author of the latest two editions of Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology in which she assumed the responsibility to revise and update the neurophysiology content.

A primary research focus for Barman has been the identification of brainstem neurons that comprise a critical network for setting the level and pattern of activity in sympathetic nerves that control cardiovascular target organs. Her research was rewarded with a National Institutes of Health Method to Extend Research in Time (MERIT) Award (1995-2005). Like virtually all other physiological control systems, the sympathetic nervous system is characterized by the presence of rhythmic activity. The hallmark of sympathetic nerve activity is the presence of rhythms synchronized to the respiratory and cardiac cycles. But sympathetic networks are complex and generate a mixture of periodicities that range between 0.04 and 10 Hz, depending on the physiological conditions, type of nerve being analyzed, and the species. Despite the prevalence of these rhythms, their function is often not obvious, which leads to the question: What can one learn about neural control of the cardiovascular system by studying rhythms in sympathetic nerve discharge? Barman and colleagues have used a combination of frequency-domain (power density spectral) and time-domain (autocorrelation) analyses to quantify how various perturbations such as manipulating neurotransmission in specific medullary regions can impact the level and pattern of sympathetic nerve activity. Their work supports the view that rhythmic activity leads to more effective activation of sympathetic neurons than randomly occurring activity and that rhythmicity is important for coordinating activity in different sympathetic nerves and in formulating complex cardiovascular response patterns.

Barman recently established two new research collaborations. One is at her home institution where she and Stephanie W. Watts are working together to identify whether a centrally-mediated reduction in sympathetic nerve activity contributes to the fall in blood pressure produced by a chronic administration of serotonin which is typically considered to be a vasoconstrictor agent. Shaun F. Morrison at Oregon Health and Science University is also a major partner in this research effort. The second collaboration is with Bill J. Yates at the University of Pittsburgh. They are examining the integrative influences of vestibular and baroreceptor inputs on the firing patterns of rostral ventrolateral medullary (RVLM) neurons in an effort to better understand the cardiovascular responses to changes in posture.  An emphasis is placed on RVLM neurons with cardiac-related activity; this work is the first to record from such neurons in a conscious animal.

Within the APS, Barman has been active in many capacities. Since 1995, she has been either a regular or ex officio member or Chair of the Steering Committee of the Central Nervous System Section (CNS) of the APS. She was one of the original members of the Joint Program Committee. As Chair of the CNS Section, she also served on the APS Nominating Committee and Section Advisory Committee. She was Chair of the Section Advisory Committee (2003-2005); and she was a member or Chair of the Women in Physiology Committee (1996-2001) As Chair of that committee, she was the APS representative to the FASEB Excellence in Science Award Committee. In 2005, Barman was elected to a 3-year term on the APS Council and served as Incoming Chair and then Chair of the Committee on Committees. In 2008 she chaired the APS Pipeline Taskforce. In 2010 she began a term as a member of the Animal Care and Experimentation Committee and as the APS representative to the Council of Academic Societies. Both positions ended when she became President-elect of the APS.  Currently she is a Council representative to the Science Policy Committee and an ex officio member of the Publications Committee and the Finance Committee. Barman has also been on the Editorial Boards of American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative, and Comparative Physiology and American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology for over 10 years. She has been active in several outreach and training initiatives of the APS including being an Instructor for Professional Skills Training Writing and Reviewing for Scientific Journals Workshop and for the beta-test of the online format for two professional skills courses (Scientific Writing and Presentation Skills). Barman was a Physiologist-in-Residence for the APS Retreat for High School/Middle School Science Teachers, and she has participated in Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week.