Susan joins Psychiatry faculty!

We’re very excited to announce that Dr. Susan Maloney has just joined the Psychiatry Dept as faculty here at Wash U! Susan has been researching serotonin neurons and the influence of SSRIs on neurodevelopment in mice. We (and Washington University, I’m sure!) are thrilled she’s going to be staying around campus for the long term!

Lab awarded R01 to study local translation in astrocytes!

We are very excited to announce that the lab has been awarded an NIH R01 grant (!!!) to study local translation in astrocytes, which may underlie activity and biological maintenance catered to singular synapses or local synaptic fields.

Disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASDs), Fragile X Syndrome, and other forms of intellectual disability are thought to involve dysregulation of synapses. Learning entails the strengthening of individual synapses of neurons, and this is known to involve the generation of new proteins at those synapses. It is now known that for neurons to efficiently make and maintain synapses, they need the support of cells called astrocytes, which provide fine processes wrapping about the synapses. We are testing whether astrocytes, like neurons, have the ability to make new proteins locally in their processes, and, if so, whether/how this ability regulates the behavior of synapses.

Rohan receives Harrison J Stalker Award for undergrad thesis, is off to med school

Rohan has been chosen to receive the Harrison J Stalker Award for his undergraduate thesis in Biology! He’s off to med school after two years–and a lot of growth as a scientist–in the lab, working with Kristina Sakers on local translation in astrocytes. Kristina is proud of how Rohan’s enthusiasm for his work grew during his time here, and we’re all proud to have him as a lab alumnus.

The Stalker Award “honors one standout Biology student who has shown tremendous achievement not only in Biology, but also in their studies of liberal arts.”

Congratulations and enjoy all that free time in med school, Rohan!

Congratulations Haley!

Haley, who has been working with Mike Vasek, was just awarded the BioSURF Fellowship, which supports summer undergraduate research under “seasoned mentors” (stay spicy, Joe/Mike). Haley’s application was a grant-style proposal reviewed by Wash U faculty. We’re glad to have an up-and-comer sticking around for the summer!

You can read more about the BioSURF program here.

Joe Gets J. Neurosci to Legalize Supplemental Data!

A referendum to legalize the responsible use of supplemental data. Inspired by the recent successful referendums in Colorado, California, and Washington, I propose that it is perhaps time for The Journal and The Society to reconsider their policy on supplemental data.”


Read the full letter to J. Neurosci here.

Claire and Mike R accepted for publication in Nature and Science, respectively! (And other recent pubs)

It feels like the last post (August, apparently?) was quite sometime ago, but we just found out that two lab members had high-profile publications accepted! Claire is an author on research regarding early autism signs in humans, headed for Nature. Mike Rieger is an author on a publication regarding serotonin neurons, in Science. We can’t say much more til those are out.


There have also been 4 other (!) publications released since we last posted–see the first four items on the “Publications” page for some weekend reading!

Nathan’s Review on Systems Biology in Autism Published as Book Section!

Nathan’s review article, “Moving from capstones toward cornerstones: successes and challenges in applying systems biology to identify mechanisms of autism spectrum disorders”, was just published as part of an E-book by the publisher Frontiers. The book, Essential Pathways and Circuits of Autism Pathogenesis” is freely available online. Congrats, Nathan!

What is systems biology, you say? It is essentially the process of gathering comprehensive data about an organism, organ, tissue, cell, or cell part, and looking for the “blips” in that data under different conditions. As a simple example, one might look at all of the genes used by skin cells, all of the genes used by hair cells, and then attempt to find just the few of those that are used in just hair cells or just skin cells.

Rohan’s Summer Wrap-Up

It’s hard to believe, but Rohan’s full-time summer work has already wrapped up! He spent the summer working on a quantification system for in-situ hybridization (ISH) micrographs and helped Kristina by performing multiple immunostains and ISHs. He will be presenting his work in a poster at Wash U’s Fall Undergraduate Research Symposium. Great work Rohan, and we hope to still see you around!

Darshan Awarded Post-Doc Fellowship by McDonnell Center for Cell and Molecular Neurbiology

Darshan Sapkota, a post-doc in our lab, was recently awarded a fellowship to pursue the functional role for stop codon readthrough. Many genes have multiple stop codons within their (potential) coding sequence; sometimes, ribosomes “read through” one of these stop codons and continue adding amino acids to the protein chain–and these proteins appear to mature and function. Darshan is looking to explore what causes this readthrough to occur, and what functional changes are induced in proteins that are encoded as a consequence of readthrough.

Congrats Darshan! Can’t wait to see what you turn up!

Lab Awarded New R01 Grant on Williams Syndrome

On Friday, the lab was informed that we were awarded an R01 grant to study the genetics of Williams Syndrome! Graduate student Nathan Kopp has been modeling this disorder in mice, namely by studying cis and trans effects of the transcription factor Gtf2i, which falls within the chromosomal region lost in Williams Syndrome (WS). Gtf2i has been implicated in the socially disinhibited nature of WS patients–a disease sign which is especially interesting in contrast to the social inhibition of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) patients. As our lab has been studying ASDs for some time, we are excited to start comparing directly the cellular and systems aspects of social behavior by looking at the hypersocial (WS) and hyposocial (ASD) extremes.

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