Graduate Training in Neuroscience
University of Washington
Professor, Department of Genome Sciences
We are using genetic and genomic approaches to elucidate molecular mechanisms of neurodegeneration. These studies are being conducted in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster because of the powerful array of genetic and molecular tools available in this organism, and because previous work has shown that mechanisms of neural development and function are highly conserved in flies and mammals. Our work on this problem is premised in the belief that studies of neural function and dysfunction will contribute equally to our understanding of neurodegenerative disease mechanisms.
A major area of investigation in the lab involves the study of Drosophila models of the neurodegenerative disorders. We have recently generated fly models of Parkinson's disease, Niemann Pick type C disease, and Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 2, and are developing corresponding fly cell culture models of these disorders using RNA interference. Our current goals are to combine traditional genetic and high-throughput genomic approaches to these in vitro and in vivo systems to reveal the genetic pathways responsible for pathology in these disorders.
The other area of investigation in the lab involves the study of presynaptic neurotransmitter release mechanisms. In these studies, we are using both classical genetic approaches to identify novel components of the neurotransmitter release apparatus, as well as candidate gene approaches to test molecular models of neurotransmitter release mechanisms. As defects in synaptic transmission accompany or precede neuron loss in many neurodegenerative disorders, our basic studies of neurotransmitter release mechanisms should provide a foundation for a mechanistic understanding of pathogenesis in these disorders.