Brock Grill, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Pharmacology
The human brain is an incredibly complex biological invention, and has billions of neurons and trillions of cell-cell connections or synapses. Synapses are composed of an axonal presynaptic site where neurotransmitters are released and a dendritic postsynaptic terminal with neurotransmitter receptors. It is these molecular connections that make us who we are, and that are lost or damaged in a number of neurodegenerative diseases and following traumatic injury to the central nervous system.
The synapse is a complex macromolecular structure that needs to be assembled, and maintained over time. We are only now beginning to understand the molecular cues and players that regulate this process. My lab focuses in particular on the identification and functional analysis of presynaptic, intracellular signals that mediate synapse formation. We have recently identified a novel set of signaling pathways that regulate both synapse formation and axon termination suggesting that these two processes are molecularly linked, possibly via a novel homeostatic mechanism.
As a method of investigation, our lab relies on two model systems: the microscopic nematode, C. elegans, and cultured rat hippocampal neurons. We primarily use proteomics in C. elegans as a tool for initial molecular discovery. Subsequent transgenic and functional genetic analysis allows us to understand how novel molecules coordinate synapse formation with axon extension and termination. In order to better understand functional conservation, and dissect synapse formation into its component processes, we translate our molecular observations from C. elegans to cultured hippocampal neurons. Specifically, we use real-time, live confocal microscopy to address whether synaptic regulators are influencing initial synapse assembly versus temporal and spatial stability.
The lab is actively recruiting both graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.