Dept.: Assistant Member, Basic Sciences Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Affiliate Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Structure
Neuroscience Focus Groups: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience, Sensory Systems, Disorders of the Nervous system, and Invertebrate Neurobiology
Glia make up about half of our brain cells, and communicate closely with neurons throughout life, both physically and biochemically. Glia-neuron interactions underlie proper nervous system development and functional maintenance throughout life, and disrupted interactions between these two cell types underlie many neurological disorders of development (eg. autism), function (sensory or cognitive impairments) and aging (Alzheimer’s).
Despite this, glial functions in the nervous system and glia-neuron interactions remain poorly understood in molecular detail. Our lab is interested in building a molecular mechanistic framework of how glia and neurons communicate with each other across to regulate sensory perception, neuronal physiology, neural circuit activity, memory formation and animal behavior.
C. elegans is a powerful in vivo model to dissect molecular mechanisms of glia-neuron interactions. In this genetically tractable animal with a mapped connectome, any glia or neuron of choice can be manipulated at single gene resolution. Effects of such manipulations can be monitored at many levels, from gene networks and –omics, biochemical investigations, cell biology, neural connectivity, in vivo light, super-resolution and functional imaging, EM and sensory animal behaviors and memory assays. We typically use all of these approaches to understand glia-neuron interactions; and coopt or develop additional methods, tools and techniques, as needed, to tackle a given scientific question.