Interdisciplinary PhD Training in the Neurosciences
Professor, Section of Neurobiology
Department of Biological Sciences
Synaptic structure, function, formation, repair, and maintenance.
Synapse-glia interactions at the neuromuscular junction.
Cellular and molecular mechanisms of the pathogenesis of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).
Among the most challenging questions in neurobiology is how synaptic connections form, function, and maintain at the appropriate targets in normal and diseased nervous systems. To address these important questions, we study the neuromuscular junction (NMJ), a model synapse due to its relatively simple morphology and easy accessibility. Using electrophysiological, morphological, and molecular approaches, we examine the role of synaptic molecules in transmitter release and synaptic plasticity in knockout mice that lack certain genes. We are also interested in the role of glial cells and glial-derived factors in the maintenance of synaptic structure and function as well as in promoting synapse development, regeneration, and sprouting. Our research on synapse-glial interactions explores an emerging concept that glial cells tell neurons to build larger, stronger, and more stable synapses.
We also use transgenic mice to study spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), the leading genetic cause of infant mortality characterized by the loss of spinal motor neurons and widespread muscle atrophy. We are studying the possible contribution of motor circuit defects to the pathogenesis of SMA, as well as the role of different cell types in SMA disease mechanisms. In addition, we are interested in translational research by testing molecules that could potentially be used to treat this devastating disorder.