Brandeis Undergrads Gain Awards at SACNAS

On October 29th, 2011, Brandeis undergrads Lamia Harper (’12), Charity Frempomaa (’12), Sadrach Pierre (’13) and Carlos Pérez (’13) from our local SACNAS chapter represented Brandeis at the Annual Conference of the Society for Advancing Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) in San José, California.  Lamia and Sadrach both received awards for their research poster presentations. Lamia, who works in the Paradis lab, won an award in the Cellular and Molecular Biology category for her poster: Gene Discovery: Protein Kinases that Affect Synapse Development in the Mammalian CNS. Sadrach, who works in the Thomas lab in Chemistry, was awarded under the Biochemistry category for his poster: Sulfoamide Boronic Acids as Inhibitors of Beta-Lactamase.

Glutamatergic and GABAergic

Can you say that three times fast? Glumatergic (excitatory) synapses respond to the neurotransmitter  glutamate, and GABAergic (inhibitory) synapses respond to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).  GABA is formed by decarboxylating glutamate. These are the “workhorse” neurotransmitters in the brain.

Neuroscience grad stduent Marissa Stearns Kuzirian and Assistant Professor of Biology Suzanne Paradis discuss what’s known about  how GABAergic synapses form, and the relationships to the previously better-studied formation of glutamergic synapses, in a new review entitled  “Emerging themes in GABAergic synapse development” in Progress in Neurobiology.

Neurons branch out: a role for Rem2

The development of the central nervous system involves a series of complex yet tightly-regulated processes, including the formation of synapses, the sites of communication between neurons, and the morphogenesis of the dendritic arbor, where the majority of synaptic contacts occur. Importantly, the misregulation of these processes is a hallmark of many neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism and mental retardation. However, the molecular mechanisms that underlie these structural and functional changes remain largely obscure.

The lab of Prof. Suzanne Paradis at Brandeis is working to identify and characterize molecules that regulate neural development in the rodent hippocampus. A recently accepted manuscript at Developmental Neurobiology by Brandeis Neurocience Ph.D. student Amy Ghiretti and Dr. Paradis uses RNAi in primary hippocampal cultures to identify novel roles for the GTPase Rem2 in several neurodevelopmental processes. The RNAi-mediated decrease of Rem2 leads to the formation of fewer excitatory synapses, and also results in increased dendritic complexity, suggesting that Rem2 functions normally to promote synapse formation and to inhibit dendritic branching. Additionally, the binding of Rem2 to the calcium-binding protein calmodulin was identified as a key interaction that distinguishes the signaling pathways through which Rem2 mediates synapse development and dendritic branching. Overall, this study identifies Rem2 as a novel regulator of several neurodevelopmental processes, and importantly, suggests that Rem2 regulates excitatory synapse development and dendritic morphology via separable and distinct signaling pathways.

Figure: Neurons in which Rem2 protein expression has been decreased by RNAi (top) show increased dendritic branching compared to control neurons (bottom), suggesting Rem2 acts to inhibit branching

BIOL 99 AND NEUR 99 Senior Honors Talks

Senior honors presentations and defenses for Biology and Neuroscience are this week and next Monday.

Name      Faculty Sponsor & Committee  Time & Location of Talk

Biol 99

Alicia Bach Dagmar Ringe, Neil Simister, Liz Hedstrom May 10   3 pm    Bassine 251
Kristin Little Bruce Goode, Joan Press, Satoshi Yoshida May 6    10 am    Bassine 251
Spencer Rittner KC Hayes, Carolyn Cohen, Larry Wangh May 6    3 pm      Bassine 251
Danielle Saly Michael Rosbash, Mike Marr, Nelson Lau May 10   11 am   Bassine 251
Sue Yen Tay Jim Haber, Sue Lovett, Joan Press  May 7    11am     Bassine 251
Alan Tso Daniela Nicastro, Liz Hedstrom, Greg Petsko May 10   2 pm    Bassine 251
Hannah Worchel Jim Morris, Ruibao Ren, Paul Garrity   May 6    2 pm     Bassine 251

Neur 99
Sarah Pease Sue Paradis, Gina Turrigiano, Paul Miller  May 10   11 am   Volen 201
Solon Schur John Lisman, Eve Marder, Paul Miller May 6    10 am   Volen 201
Alexander Trott Leslie Griffith, Piali Sengupa, Melissa Kosinski-Collins May 6    11 am   Volen 201
Dylan Wolman Sue Paradis, Sacha Nelson, Piali Sengupta May 10   1 pm    Volen 201

Faculty research mentor (emphasized) is chair of the committee.

Recent Grant Awards

Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Melanie Gainey received an NRSA Fellowship from NINDS. Working in the Turrigiano lab, Melanie plans to study the role of the AMPA receptor subunit GluR2 in synaptic scaling in cultural neurons and in vivo using a conditional GluR2 knockout mouse.

Assistant Professor Suzanne Paradis received a Smith Family New Investigator Award from the Richard & Susan Smith Family Foundation. $300,000 in support over three years will support the lab’s efforts to study synapse development and specifically the role of the Sema4B protein in controlling synapse formation.

Professor Leslie Griffith received $1.1 million over 5 years from NIMH to study why sleep is required for effective memory formation. To understand this linkage at a cellular and molecular level, the Griffith lab is defining the circuits that regulate sleep in Drosophila and how these circuits affect memory formation.

Professor Larry Wangh received $1.38 million over the next year from Smiths Detection to continue research and invention of LATE-PCR et al., platform technologies for highly informative detection and diagnosis of nucleic acids in a single tube.  There are ongoing projects looking at applications to cancer, prenatal genetics, and several infectious diseases in people and animals.

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