Undergraduates at CSHL tackle questions about parietal cortex dynamics and neurodegeneration

August 10, 2014

leilaLeila Elabbady (Wellesley College) worked in Josh Dubnau’s lab where they are using fruit flies to understand neurodegeneration. An emerging hypothesis is that increased transposon activity may play a role in neurodegeneration. Transposons are repetitive strands of DNA that can copy themselves and insert themselves elsewhere in the genome. These were first discovered in corn, here at Cold Spring harbor by Barbara McClintock who later got the nobel prize for her work. Transposons can be dangerous: they can alter the transcription of other, potentially important genes. Leila’s work this summer focussed on TDP-43, a DNA/RNA binding protein that might keep transposon activity in check. She tested whether manipulating the fly homolog of TDP-43 affected transposon activity in flies. A key part of this approach, and also what makes it challenging, is that Leila monitored transposon activity at multiple stages in the flies’ lives. Identifying how TDP-43 affects this progression will be key for testing the hypothesis about its role in neurodegeneration.

nikaelaNikalea Bryan (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) also worked in my lab. She was likewise interested in the timing of decision formation in the cortex, but wanted to get at the issue by manipulating inhibitory interneurons. These neurons are plentiful in the cortex and the sub-type she was interested in, parvalbumin positive (PV) interneurons, strongly innervate excitatory pyramidal cells. Upregulating the PV neurons therefore can shut down the ability of the cortex to communicate information to downstream areas, a powerful tool. Nikaela also thought deeply about training procedures and how to tweak them to get the best performance possible.

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