Charles E. Kaufman Foundation

2015 New Investigator Grant

Jennifer Round, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Ursinus College

Interaction of Psychiatric Risk Factor Ankyrin-G and Slitrk2 in Excitatory Synapse Formation


The human brain has billions of neurons interconnected by over a trillion synapses. Most of this intricate network is formed during embryonic development, when neurons rely on a vast array of cell surface proteins to find their synaptic partners with extraordinary precision. Subtle errors in this matchmaking process are the biological basis of many devastating disorders, including autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Therefore, a thorough examination of the protein interactions that drive synapse formation has real potential to enhance our understanding of the cellular basis of neurological disease. The purpose of this investigation is to explore a potential interaction between two well known psychiatric risk factors, Slitrk2 and ankyrin-G. Specifically, we will test the hypothesis that ankyrin-G anchors Slitrk2 to synaptic sites, thus controlling the number and positioning of synapses during neural circuit formation. This pilot study will pave the way for more in-depth studies of Slitrk signaling, and will contribute greatly to our understanding of synaptic connectivity in health and disease. The award will also engage a large number of promising young undergraduates in cutting edge neurobiology research, which has great potential to enrich and diversify Pennsylvania’s scientific research career pipeline.

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