Dedication and Inaugural Lecture for the Gruber Chair in Neuroscience

Provost Steve A. N. Goldstein writes:

It is with great pleasure that I invite you to participate in another significant moment in the history of this campus—the dedication of the Peter Gruber Chair in Neuroscience. Named chairs are an important way the University can recognize and sustain outstanding research, exceptional teaching, and visionary leadership. The dedication of the Gruber Chair is one such occasion, and we will gather to honor the first incumbent, Professor Michael Rosbash, our friend and remarkable colleague. Furthermore, we are most fortunate to be able to greet and thank the generous donor, Patricia Gruber of the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, who will join us for these festivities. I do hope you will join us for this exciting afternoon.


Thursday, September 27, 2012, 3:30 p.m.
Rapaporte Treasure Hall, 
Goldfarb Library

  • Welcome from President Frederick M. Lawrence and Provost Steve A. N. Goldstein ’78
  • Introduction of the Gruber Professor by Eve Marder, the Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Neuroscience and Head of the Division of Science
  • Presentation by Michael Rosbash, the Peter Gruber Professor of Neuroscience, on Circadian Rhythms: Time Travels
  • Remarks from Patricia Gruber, President of the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation
  • Reception to follow

Michael Rosbash is the inaugural holder of the Peter Gruber Chair in Neuroscience and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. A Professor of Biology, Professor Rosbash is also the Director of the National Center for Behavioral Genomics at Brandeis. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences. Professor Rosbash and Professor of Biology Emeritus Jeffrey Hall collaborated closely for more than two decades at Brandeis. Combining their expertise in fly genetics and molecular biology, they cloned the Drosophila fruit fly period gene, a key regulator of circadian rhythms. The mechanism of the molecular clock that they then discovered later was found to be universal in the biological world. Through ongoing research, Professor Rosbash continues to advance our understanding of the importance of circadian rhythms to health and disease.

The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation honors and encourages educational excellence, social justice, and scientific achievements that better the human condition. The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation is a private, United States-based philanthropic organization established in 1993 under the 501(c)(3) section of U.S. Corporate Law. It is funded entirely by Peter and Patricia Gruber, who serve as its Chairman and President, respectively. A major focus of the Foundation’s philanthropy is its International Prize Program, created to recognize excellence in science and humanities by highlighting five fields that create a better world: Cosmology, Genetics, Neuroscience, Justice, and Women’s Rights. To support Cosmology, Genetics, and Neuroscience further, the Gruber Foundation has affiliated with preeminent science organizations to award fellowships to promising young scientists in those fields.

A Cellular Rocket Launcher links Actin, Microtubules, and Cancer

Cells contain thousands of protein “micromachines” performing a bewildering number of chemical reactions every second. The challenge for biologists in the 21st century is to integrate information about multiple – or even all – proteins into holistic models for the entire cell. This is a daunting task. The addition of any new component to a system can alter the behavior of the components already there. This phenomenon is especially familiar to biologists studying the cytoskeleton, a complex system of protein filaments that provide the force for cell division and migration, among other things. The building blocks of the cytoskeleton are simple proteins called tubulin and actin that assemble into a remarkable variety of shapes depending on context. While the basic chemistry of this assembly process has been understood in purified systems for decades, how it happens in cells is not well understood. For example, growth of actin filaments is a two-step process: nucleation, or the formation of a new filament, and elongation, or the extension of that existing filament. Both steps happen just fine when actin is present in pure form in a test tube. In cells, however, proteins called profilin and capping protein block these two steps, respectively. Nucleation and elongation can only occur because other proteins overcome these blocks. Thus, a faithful experimental system to study actin assembly as it would occur in a living cell requires – at a minimum – five purified proteins.

One technological advance of great importance is the ability to literally see single molecules (in this case proteins) using advanced fluorescence imaging. In such an experimental system, many details can be captured. In a recent publication in Science, Dr. Dennis Breitsprecher and colleagues in the Goode and Gelles labs, undertook this challenge and directly visualized the effects of key regulatory proteins helping actin proteins nucleate and grow into filaments in the presence of both profilin and capping protein. A previous study from the Goode lab had shown that two proteins, called APC and mDia1, together stimulate the growth of actin into filaments (Okada et al, 2010). In the present study, Breitsprecher and colleagues examined the mechanism by which APC and mDia1 overcome the profilin and capping protein-imposed blocks. To do this, they ‘tagged’ actin, APC and mDia1 with three different fluorescent dyes, each of a different color, and then filmed these molecules (using triple-color TIRF microscopy) in the act of building an actin filament to learn precisely what they are doing.

The authors began by imaging APC and actin (2 colors) at the same time. APC formed discrete spots on the microscope slide, and growing actin filaments emerged from them, suggesting than APC nucleates actin filament formation. As the filament emerged from the APC spot, APC stayed where it was: remaining stably associated at the site of nucleation. Next, the authors added dye-labeled mDia1 to the system, and observed mDia1 molecules staying attached to and ‘riding’ the fast-growing end of actin filament, while protecting it from capping protein.

The most remarkable result came when they visualized all three labeled molecules together (actin, APC, and mDia1). What they saw was that APC and mDia1 first come together in a stable complex even before actin arrives. Then APC recruits multiple actin subunits to initiate the nucleation of a filament. This complex was resistant to the blocks imposed by both profilin and capping protein. As the filament grew from the APC-mDia1 spot, mDia1 separated from APC and stayed bound to the growing end of the filament – protecting it from capping protein while it grows. Thus, even though APC and mDia1 have different activities, participating in different stages of the growth of a filament, they associate together before actin even arrives, likely so that once the actin filament is born, it is immediately protected from capping protein. This mechanism has been compared to a rocket launcher: APC is the launch pad for an actin filament, which is then propelled forward by mDia1.

Rocket launcher images and cartoon

Rocket launcher mechanism for APC and mDia1 nucleation. Left: Microscopic image of a growing actin filament. APC stays put while mDia1 remains associated with the fast growing end. Right: Model for the rocket launcher mechanism.

The new study provides great detail of the system: for example, the number of APC subunits required to nucleate actin filaments was determined, and the growth rate of actin filaments in the presence and absence of all the other components was measured. Ultimately, all of these data will be required to put together a detailed model of how actin filaments grow inside of real cells: details that would be difficult or impossible to obtain without employing single molecule analysis.

For the future, the authors have set their sights on even more challenging experiments aimed at elucidating the mysterious link between tubulin and actin fibers. APC and mDia1 are implicated in this linkage in living cells, but almost nothing is known about how they physically link and/or communicate information between the two systems. Since APC is mutated in some 80% of colon cancer tumors, understanding its multiple roles is of clinical as well as intellectual importance. This will be an exciting, if challenging, endeavor for the future.

Rodal to Receive NIH New Innovator Award

The NIH recently announced that Assistant Professor of Biology Avital Rodal will be a recipient of the 2012 NIH Directors New Innovator Award. The award allows new, exceptionally creative and ambitious investigators to begin high impact research projects. Granted to early stage investigators, candidates are eligible for the award for up to ten years after the completion of their PhD or MD. The award emphasizes bold, new approaches, which have the potential to spur large scientific steps forward. This year’s award was made to fifty-one researchers, and provides each with 1.5 million dollars of direct research funding over five years.

The Rodal lab studies the mechanisms of membrane deformation and endosomal traffic in neurons as they relate to growth signaling and disease. Membrane deformation by a core set of conserved protein complexes leads to the creation of tubules and vesicles from the plasma membrane and internal compartments. Endocytic vesicles contain, among other cargoes, activated growth factors and receptors, which traffic to the neuronal cell body to drive transcriptional responses (see movie). These growth cues somehow coordinate with neuronal activity to dramatically alter the morphology of the neuron, and disruptions to both endocytic pathways and neuronal activity have been implicated in neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Rodal hopes to determine how neuronal activity affects the in vivo function and biochemical composition of the membrane trafficking machinery, by examining the transport of fluorescently labeled growth factor receptors in chronically or acutely activated neurons at the Drosophila neuromuscular junction (NMJ). Her group will combine these live imaging studies with a proteomic analysis of endocytic machinery purified from hyper-activated and under-activated neurons. By investigating the interplay between neuronal activity, membrane deformation, and receptor localization in live animal NMJs, she hopes to gain a better understanding of the strategies that healthy neurons employ to regulate membrane trafficking events, and provide new insight into specific points of failure in neurodegenerative disease.

Neuroscience club hosts discussion of traumatic brain injury on Sep 24

The Brandies Neuroscience Club presents a multi-faceted discussion on Traumatic Brain Injury, to take place on Monday, September 24, from 6:00-7:00 pm in the Luria rooms in Hassenfeld Conference Center.

Traumatic brain injury, which occurs when an external force injures the brain, can lead to social, cognitive, emotional and behavioral disabilities, or even death. As TBI is becoming recognized as a serious public health issue, especially among veterans, the Brandeis Neuroscience Club has organized a panel discussing the biology of TBI, cutting-edge research in treatments, and the personal story of a TBI survivor.

Neuroscience professor Art Wingfield will begin the evening by introducing the different types of traumatic brain injury, the healing and recovery process, and some of the specific cognitive functions that can be affected by these injuries. Health Science, Society and Policy professor Laura Lorenz will then describe the limitations of current rehabilitation therapies, and  her proposal for community-based rehabilitation for chronic brain injury, inspired by both clinical research and her work investigating the experience of TBI survivors. Finally, Peggy Sue Lebba, a former health care professional will discuss her experience living with and healing from mild traumatic brain injury that changed her life 10 years ago. Using photographs and captions, she will provide a glimpse inside her challenges, struggles and eventual acceptance of her “new self” and abilities. Her story illustrates the important roles that resilience, hope, and support from family, friends, and medical professionals can play in helping individuals with brain injury to overcome adversity and find new meaning in life.

New England Complex Fluids Workshop at Brandeis Sept 21

The 52nd New England Complex Fluids Workshop will be held on September 21, 2012. hosted by the Brandeis MRSEC. The workshop will feature a panel of researchers from industry exploring the academic / industrial relationship. Additionally, we will have one session of invited academic speakers, plus  two contributed “sound bite” sessions. Please consider submitting your work for an oral presentation.

In addition to taking questions from the floor, the panel will address questions such as  what kind of training and education do industrial labs seek in job applicants? What (scientific) knowledge should applicants possess? experience? skills? creativity? business knowledge? What should the universities do to better prepare students for a career in industry? What opinion do the industrial scientists and managers have on the research being done at universities? And how does research done in industry compare to that done in universities?  How common are collaborations between industry and academic researchers? What makes a successful collaboration? When does industry use academic consultants?

Registration (free) required: (deadline: 8am, September 19, 2012)


 Registration & Coffee9:00 – 9:30 AM Shapiro Campus Center, Room 236.1 Talk9:30 PM – 10:10 AM  (30 mins + 10 disc)
Shapiro Campus Center Theater

Michael Aizenberg, Wyss Institute, Harvard
     Responsive Gel-Based Dynamic Materials

Sound Bites10:15 AM – 11 AM
Shapiro Campus Center Theater
            Five minute updates of current research

Coffee11:00 AM – 11:30 AM
Shapiro Center, Room 236

Panel11:30 – 1:00 PM 
Shapiro Center, Room 236
Industry / Academic relations
Rick Jacubinas (BASF), Darren Link (Raindance), Ian Morrison (Harvard)
Chris Harrison (Schlumberger), Patrick Spicer (Procter & Gamble)

Lunch1:00 – 2:00 PM
 Shapiro Center, Room 236

1 Talk2:00 PM – 2:40 PM  (30 mins + 10 disc)
Shapiro Campus Center Theater
Shekhar Garde, Chem & Bio Eng, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Hydration Phenomena at the Interface of Physics and Biology

Sound Bites: 2:45 PM – 4:00 PM
Shapiro Campus Center Theater
            Five minute updates of current research

Coffee4:00 PM – 4:30 PM
Shapiro Center, Room 236


With the advent of web applications and mobile devices, students in Computer Science are becoming more and more entrepreneurial during their stay at university. A stream or new and intriguing applications built by students has been emerging from Brandeis.

Studifi ® is a collaboration platform for students, developed by Thomas Lextrait, graduate student at Brandeis. It is hosted in the cloud and offers free service. Students can use Studifi to find, manage and collaborate(*) on projects, while instructors can use it to manage student teams within their classes. The platform allows students to find teammates within their classes as well as look for projects at other universities across the globe.

Studifi generates revenue by allowing landlords to post local apartments and companies to post jobs. These are matched with students to create targeted yet relevant advertisement, adding value to the platform.

(*) Brandeis students should consult course instructors before collaborating on projects, and should be cognizant of the rules laid out in section 4 of the Rights and Responsibilities handbook.

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