Claude Desplan to speak in Bauer Distinguished Lecturer Series

Claude Desplan, Silver Professor and Professor of Biology at NYU, will visit Brandeis the week of March 21-25 as part of the M.R.Bauer Foundation Distinguished Lecturer Series. Desplan’s work focuses on developmental biology in insects, and is particularly concerned with pattern formation. A recent topic of interest is the development of the neural network that supports color vision in the optic lobe of the fruit fly.

Desplan will speak on Monday, March 21 at 4:00 pm in Gerstenzang 121. The title of his talk will be “Processing of Color Information in Drosophilia”. Desplan will speak again at Neurobiology Journal Club on March 22 at 12:05 pm in Gerstenzang 121.

According to a post at

Desplan is the funniest, nicest guy ever. At first you may not be able to understand him too too easily due to his french accent but after a few days that’s not a problem. Desplan went pretty slow and went over concepts that people didn’t seem to understand. Even then he held very helpful review sessions. Great professor.


Alex’s life as a fly barista

Alex Dainis ’11 writes about her experiences in the Garrity lab studying the genetics of nociception in fruit flies in her story “My life as a fly barista” on the Life@Deis blog.

Update: see the later story on this blog about the Nature paper on which Alex is an author.

Getting a Leg Up on Movement Disorders

Over 40 million people worldwide suffer from movement disorders, which are clinically defined as any type of affliction that affects the speed, fluency, ease, or quality of motion. The symptoms of these disorders can manifest in many different ways (the most common being tics, tremors, dystonia, and chorea), and treatment is still elusive for a large number of these often debilitating diseases.  The past several decades, however, have seen enormous advances in our understanding of the genes and proteins underlying these conditions, and what remains to be determined is the way in which these molecules interact with each other to produce either normal or pathological locomotor patterns.

Scaffolding proteins have recently become a point of interest in the field of movement disorders.  As their name implies, these proteins act as “scaffolds” to tether other proteins together, thus facilitating protein-protein interactions.  It has long been thought that scaffolding protein dysfunction could disrupt the formation of protein complexes critical for the production normal locomotion, but evidence for such conjectures has remained elusive.

in a recent article in the journal GENETICS, Dr. Leslie Griffith’s lab at Brandeis University published work implicating one such scaffolding protein of the MAGUK family, known as CASK-b, in locomotor pathology. Using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system, researchers in the lab combined recently-developed genetic tools with cutting-edge computer behavior analysis software to demonstrate that knocking out this protein produces a complex motor deficit (see figure below).  Furthermore, this deficit appears to stem from a loss of CASK-b in the central nervous system, suggesting it plays a role in higher-order regulation of motor output.  Interestingly, both the major locomotor control center of the insect brain (known as the ellipsoid body), as well as the motor neurons which the locomotor control center regulates, do not appear to require this protein to produce normal locomotor patterns.  This finding implies that a novel region or regions of the fly brain may be contributing to central locomotor control.  Understanding both the specific mechanism through which this protein acts, as well as the underlying circuitry responsible for this deficit, could contribute largely to the field of movement disorders as a whole.

Another surprising finding to come out of this study was the discovery of an additional mRNA transcript that arises from an alternative promoter in the CASK locus.  Although similar to CASK-b in many ways, this alternative protein is actually most homologous to another member of the same family in vertebrates, known as MPP1.  MPP1, like most of its MAGUK cousins, is also a scaffolding protein that plays a vital role in bringing various proteins together into signaling complexes, thus providing more opportunities for complex interactions to take place.  The Drosophila genome has many fewer MAGUK proteins than most mammalian genomes.  This finding implies that through utilization of alternative start sites that generate multiple proteins, the fly can still end up with a wide array of subcellular interactions.  It is this underlying diversity of molecular interactions that is thought to allow the fly to produce to a variety of unusually complex behaviors, such as courtship, aggression, flight, and in this case motor control.

Back online

We’ve been off-line for a while, and now we’ve moved into the new version of WordPress supported by the campus IT folks. It should now be relatively easy for labs to post themselves to this blogs.

What have we missed? Well, for one, Michael Rosbash and Jeff Hall are getting the Gruber Neuroscience Prize, together with Michael Young (Rockefeller U), for their work on genetics of circadian rhythms.

I’ll post some more of the “backdated” news when I get a chance. Feel free to ask for an account so you can do it yourself…

Undergraduate authors

Brandeis is proud of its tradition of undergraduates working in science labs,  alongside grad students, staff and postdocs. This work often leads to publications in the primary scientific literature (see list of undergraduate publications).

The most recent of these, by Nicholas Hornstein and collaborators in the Griffith lab, appears in the Journal of Visualized Experiments. This new journal focuses on using streaming video to provide access to high quality demonstrations of lab procedures (in this case, demonstrating dissection technique for doing neurophysiology in Drosophila larvae).

Drosha and Pasha

No, this isn’t a Russian short story.

Lead authors postdoc alum Sebastian Kadener and Mol Cell Biol graduate student Joe Rodriguez and their coworkers used tiling arrays to look for targets of the enzyme Drosha in “Genome-wide identification of targets of the drosha–pasha/DGCR8 complex”, a paper recently published in the journal RNA. Drosha is a type III RNAse that is involved in the processing of  miRNAs. This paper demonstrates for first time that this enzyme is not only involved in miRNA processing, but can also process mRNAs.  Interestingly, the best example of an mRNA processed by Drosha is the mRNA that encodes another miRNA processing enzyme, the protein Pasha. As this is a partner of Drosha (the two proteins work together), the findings suggest that  there is a feedback loop that controls the abundance of the miRNA processing machinery and probably the abundance of miRNAs themselves.

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