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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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Thinking Brains: An Introduction to Neuroscientific Thought

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An introduction to neuroscientific thought aimed at an audience that is not educated in biology. Meant to be readable and easily understood by anyone with a high school education. The first section is completed in its entirety, with outlines for

An introduction to neuroscientific thought aimed at an audience that is not educated in biology. Meant to be readable and easily understood by anyone with a high school education. The first section is completed in its entirety, with outlines for the proposed final sections to be completed over the next few years.

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2014-05

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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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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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2016-12