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Dysregulated ERK/MAPK Signaling in RASopathy Animal Model Systems Leads to a Decrease in mTOR Expression and Activation of Translational Machinery

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The RAS/MAPK (RAS/Mitogen Activated Protein Kinase) pathway is a highly conserved, canonical signaling cascade that is highly involved in cellular growth and proliferation as well as cell migration. As such, it plays an important role in development, specifically in development

The RAS/MAPK (RAS/Mitogen Activated Protein Kinase) pathway is a highly conserved, canonical signaling cascade that is highly involved in cellular growth and proliferation as well as cell migration. As such, it plays an important role in development, specifically in development of the nervous system. Activation of ERK is indispensable for the differentiation of Embryonic Stem Cells (ESC) into neuronal precursors (Li z et al, 2006). ERK signaling has also shown to mediate Schwann cell myelination of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) as well as oligodendrocyte proliferation (Newbern et al, 2011). The class of developmental disorders that result in the dysregulation of RAS signaling are known as RASopathies. The molecular and cell-specific consequences of these various pathway mutations remain to be elucidated. While there is evidence for altered DNA transcription in RASopathies, there is little work examining the effects of the RASopathy-linked mutations on protein translation and post-translational modifications in vivo. RASopathies have phenotypic and molecular similarities to other disorders such as Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) and Tuberous Sclerosis (TSC) that show evidence of aberrant protein synthesis and affect related pathways. There are also well-defined downstream RAS pathway elements involved in translation. Additionally, aberrant corticospinal axon outgrowth has been observed in disease models of RASopathies (Xing et al, 2016). For these reasons, this present study examines a subset of proteins involved in translation and translational regulation in the context of RASopathy disease states. Results indicate that in both of the tested RASopathy model systems, there is altered mTOR expression. Additionally the loss of function model showed a decrease in rps6 activation. This data supports a role for the selective dysregulation of translational control elements in RASopathy models. This data also indicates that the primary candidate mechanism for control of altered translation in these modes is through the altered expression of mTOR.

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2017-05

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Fos Expression in Response to Nicotine and Social Reward in Adolescent Male Rats

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Previous findings from our lab have demonstrated that nicotine and social reward have synergistic effects when experienced together versus when experienced separately. The purpose of this experiment is to understand the neural mechanisms underlying this synergistic effect by quantifying Fos

Previous findings from our lab have demonstrated that nicotine and social reward have synergistic effects when experienced together versus when experienced separately. The purpose of this experiment is to understand the neural mechanisms underlying this synergistic effect by quantifying Fos protein, a marker for neural activation, in various brain regions. We utilized the conditioning place preference (CPP) model to assess reward. Four groups of adolescent male rats (n=120) were given either nicotine (Nic) (0.1 mg/kg/mL) or saline (Sal) and were placed in the CPP apparatus either with a social partner (Soc) or alone (Iso). Thus, groups were: 1.)Sal+Iso, 2).Sal+Soc, 3).Nic+Iso, 4).Nic+Soc. Brains of some the rats (n=40) were collected for Fos staining 90 minutes after the last conditioning session to obtain Fos data in response to direct exposure to the stimuli. The following regions were analyzed for Fos expression: central amygdala (CeA), medial amygdala (MeA), basolateral amygdala (BLA), nucleus accumbens core (NAcCore), and nucleus accumbens shell (NAcShell). Place preference changes occurred in socially-conditioned groups reflecting social reward and in nicotine-conditioned groups reflecting nicotine reward. As expected, the Sal+Iso control group failed to display a preference change. Fos data revealed a significant increase in Fos expression in the CeA, MeA, NAcCore and NAcShell for socially-conditioned animals and a significant decrease in the NAcCore for nicotine-conditioned groups. Experiencing both social and nicotine rewards together appeared to produce greater activation in the BLA. However, there was an increase in Fos expression in the negative control group relative to Nic+Iso group. The results of CPP suggest that social, nicotine and their combination are rewarding. The combination of the nicotine and social reward could have been more rewarding than social and nicotine separately, but the test was not sensitive to reward magnitude. The increase in Fos expression in the negative control group in the BLA could be due to isolation stress. Overall, these results suggest that these brain regions had greater activation to social reward.

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2013-05

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Exploring developmental mechanisms and function of Drosophila motoneuron dendrites with targeted genetic manipulation of Dscam

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Specific dendritic morphologies are a hallmark of neuronal identity, circuit assembly, and behaviorally relevant function. Despite the importance of dendrites in brain health and disease, the functional consequences of dendritic shape remain largely unknown. This dissertation addresses two fundamental and

Specific dendritic morphologies are a hallmark of neuronal identity, circuit assembly, and behaviorally relevant function. Despite the importance of dendrites in brain health and disease, the functional consequences of dendritic shape remain largely unknown. This dissertation addresses two fundamental and interrelated aspects of dendrite neurobiology. First, by utilizing the genetic power of Drosophila melanogaster, these studies assess the developmental mechanisms underlying single neuron morphology, and subsequently investigate the functional and behavioral consequences resulting from developmental irregularity. Significant insights into the molecular mechanisms that contribute to dendrite development come from studies of Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule (Dscam). While these findings have been garnered primarily from sensory neurons whose arbors innervate a two-dimensional plane, it is likely that the principles apply in three-dimensional central neurons that provide the structural substrate for synaptic input and neural circuit formation. As such, this dissertation supports the hypothesis that neuron type impacts the realization of Dscam function. In fact, in Drosophila motoneurons, Dscam serves a previously unknown cell-autonomous function in dendrite growth. Dscam manipulations produced a range of dendritic phenotypes with alteration in branch number and length. Subsequent experiments exploited the dendritic alterations produced by Dscam manipulations in order to correlate dendritic structure with the suggested function of these neurons. These data indicate that basic motoneuron function and behavior are maintained even in the absence of all adult dendrites within the same neuron. By contrast, dendrites are required for adjusting motoneuron responses to specific challenging behavioral requirements. Here, I establish a direct link between dendritic structure and neuronal function at the level of the single cell, thus defining the structural substrates necessary for conferring various aspects of functional motor output. Taken together, information gathered from these studies can inform the quest in deciphering how complex cell morphologies and networks form and are precisely linked to their function.

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2013

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Motor Learning Loss Due to MEK1 Hyperactivation in Cortical Excitatory Neurons

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Rasopathies are a family of developmental syndromes that exhibit craniofacial abnormalities, cognitive disabilities, developmental delay and increased risk of cancer. However, little is known about the pathogenesis of developmental defects in the nervous system. Frequently, gain-of-function mutations in the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK

Rasopathies are a family of developmental syndromes that exhibit craniofacial abnormalities, cognitive disabilities, developmental delay and increased risk of cancer. However, little is known about the pathogenesis of developmental defects in the nervous system. Frequently, gain-of-function mutations in the Ras/Raf/MEK/ERK cascade (aka ERK/MAPK) are associated with the observed pathogenesis. My research focuses on defining the relationship between increased ERK/MAPK signaling and its effects on the nervous system, specifically in the context of motor learning. Motor function depends on several neuroanatomically distinct regions, especially the spinal cord, cerebellum, striatum, and cerebral cortex. We tested whether hyperactivation of ERK/MAPK specifically in the cortex was sufficient to drive changes in motor function. We used a series of genetically modified mouse models and cre-lox technology to hyperactivate ERK/MAPK in the cerebral cortex. Nex:Cre/NeuroD6:Cre was employed to express a constitutively active MEK mutation throughout all layers of the cerebral cortex from an early stage of development. RBP4:Cre, caMEK only exhibited hyper activation in cortical glutamatergic neurons responsible for cortical output (neurons in layer V of the cerebral cortex). First, the two mouse strains were tested in an open field paradigm to assess global locomotor abilities and overall fitness for fine motor tasks. Next, a skilled motor reaching task was used to evaluate motor learning capabilities. The results show that Nex:Cre/NeuroD6:Cre, caMEK mutants do not learn the motor reaching task, although they performed normally on the open field task. Preliminary results suggest RBP4:Cre, caMEK mutants exhibit normal locomotor capabilities and a partial lack of learning. The difference in motor learning capabilities might be explained by the extent of altered connectivity in different regions of the corticospinal tract. Once we have identified the neuropathological effects of various layers in the cortex we will be able to determine whether therapeutic interventions are sufficient to reverse these learning defects.

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Date Created
2016-12

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The Role of ERK/MAPK In The Postnatal Development of Lower Motor Neurons

Description

The Erk/MAPK pathway plays a major role in cell growth, differentiation, and survival. Genetic mutations that cause dysregulation in this pathway can result in the development of Rasopathies, a group of several different syndromes including Noonan Syndrome, Costello Syndrome, and

The Erk/MAPK pathway plays a major role in cell growth, differentiation, and survival. Genetic mutations that cause dysregulation in this pathway can result in the development of Rasopathies, a group of several different syndromes including Noonan Syndrome, Costello Syndrome, and Neurofibromatosis Type-1. Since these mutations are germline and affect all cell types it is hard to differentiate the role that Erk/MAPK plays in each cell type. Previous research has shown that individual cell types utilize the Erk/MAPK pathway in different ways. For example, the morphological development of lower motor neuron axonal projections is Erk/MAPK-independent during embryogenesis, while nociceptive neuron projections require Erk/MAPK to innervate epidermal targets. Here, we tested whether Erk/MAPK played a role in the postnatal development of lower motor neurons during crucial periods of activity-dependent circuit modifications. We have generated Cre-dependent conditional Erk/MAPK mutant mice that exhibit either loss or gain of Erk/MAPK signaling specifically in ChAT:Cre expressing lower motor neurons. Importantly, we found that Erk/MAPK is necessary for the development of neuromuscular junction morphology by the second postnatal week. In contrast, we were unable to detect a significant difference in lower motor neuron development in Erk/MAPK gain-of-function mice. The data suggests that Erk/MAPK plays an important role in postnatal lower motor neuron development by regulating the morphological maturation of the neuromuscular junction.

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2017