The processes leading to final placement and functioning of cells in the nervous system include proliferation, migration, and electrical and morphological differentiation. My research interests are in the areas of physiology of ion channels and receptors in mammalian CNS neurons, and their roles in neuronal development and migration. At present we are concentrating on two different types of neurons: peptide-secreting neurons from the hypothalamus and motor neurons of the brainstem.
The specific subset of endocrine cells are are the gonadotropin-hormone releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons, which reside in the hypothalamus, but originate outside of the central nervous system, in the olfactory placode. In the adult animal, GnRH is secreted by these neurons into the median eminence, which then carries in to the anterior pituitary to stimulate the release of the gonadotropins. This GnRH secretion is characteristically episodic, which may be essential for the correct functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis. Because these cells migrate to the CNS, we have access to them over a wide range of developmental stages over which the secretory comptentence occurs.
We are also examining the expression of ion channels in motor nuclei of the brainstem, in order to characterize the endogenous rhythms that underlie not only the adult pattern of physiological functioning, but also to understand the role that such endogenous activity plays in survival and final patterning of neurons.
In this work I have employed electrophysiological techniques (patch clamp), transfection methods to insert foreign ion channels into cultured cells, molecular detection methods to assay RNA and protein levels for specfic ion channels, and calcium imaging technology.