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Vallo ’13 Studies Seizure Suppression, Teaches Local Students about Science

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This summer, Mary Vallo '13 developed a needs assessment for the Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut. She also volunteers in the Wesleyan Science Outreach club and plays intramural soccer. (Photo by Bill Tyner '13)

Q: Mary, what is your class year, and what are you majoring in?

A: I’m a junior, and I’m double-majoring in neuroscience and behavior and English.

Q: You’re currently working in the lab of Jan Naegele, professor of neuroscience and behavior, professor of biology. Can you tell us a bit about your research in the Naegele Lab?

A: The Naegele Lab studies temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), which involves instances of elevated electrical activity in the brain called seizures. In cases where medication does not alleviate seizures, TLE patients experience cell death and damage in the dentate gyrus, part of the hippocampal region of the brain. Using a mouse model of TLE, our goal is to replenish the damaged neurons via stem cell injections. And since seizure-related cell death especially affects a type of interneuron that normally inhibits electrical impulses, we hope that restoring those interneurons will help to suppress seizure activity.

Q: This summer, you participated in the Wesleyan University Hughes Program, funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. What was your summer-long research project?

A: The project that I began over the summer analyzes brain sections from epileptic mice that have received stem cell transplants. I stain for a protein that marks transplanted cell axons and another protein called gephyrin that is found at inhibitory synapses. So far, I have found several instances where transplant axons overlap with gephyrin. These findings suggest that the stem cells form inhibitory connections that may contribute to seizure suppression.

Grabel Receives New Human Stem Cell Research Grant

Laura Grabel

Professor Laura Grabel has received a $750,000 grant from The State of Connecticut Stem Cell Research Advisory Committee for her study titled “Angiogenesis of Embryonic Stem Cell Derived Hippocampus Transplants.” It is her third grant from the Committee since Connecticut began its state-funded human stem cell research program in 2006, and second where she is the principal investigator (P.I); she was co-P.I. on the other.

Grabel, professor of biology and Lauren B. Dachs Professor of Science in Society, is also a co-director of Connecticut’s Human Embryonic Core Facility, a research center in Farmington, Conn. that houses some human stem cell research performed by scientists from Wesleyan, The University of Connecticut, and The University of Connecticut Health Center.

The new grant will fund a study that builds on previous research

Neuroscience and Behavior Capstone Focuses on Service

Mandela Kazi ’12 speaks about "The Human Connectome Project." Plastic model brains are arrayed on the table in front of him.(Photo by David Pesci)

“Let’s pass around the brains, but please be careful,” Jennifer Cheng ’11 says. “They break easily.”

Maryann Platt ’11 and Mandela Kazi ’12 hand out the brains, detailed plastic models with interlocking, removable pieces that allow anyone picking them up to study the organ’s specific areas.

“I don’t think you need to use the stands,” says Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior.  “I think you can just give them the brains.”

The students nod and make a note and return to their presentation, titled “The Human Connectome Project,” which focuses on the brain, connectomes and the new 3-D technology being used to better map both. The presentation is a practice session that the other students in the class, Neuroscience and Behavior (NS&B) 360, watch and then give feedback. The real thing came a few weeks later in front of high school students, an event that the NS&B 360 students have been anticipating all semester.

NS&B 360 is a new offering this year, a combination capstone course – an intense, rigorous experience that is cumulative and requires students to draw on their previous coursework – as well as a service-learning course, which combines active learning with providing a service to the local community.

Naegele Published in Epilepsy Publications

Jan Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the author of “Tangled Roots: Digging Deeper into Astrocyte or Interneuron Dysfunction in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy,” published in Epilepsy Currents, Volume 11, Issue 1, 2011. The article is online here.

She’s also the author of “STEP Regulation of Seizure Thresholds in the Hippocampus,” published in Epilepsia by Wiley Publishers, 2011. The article is online here.

Aaron, Naegele, Briggs, Walker, Asik Published in Epilepsia Journal

The March 2011 cover of Epilepsia.

Faculty, alumni and students from the Biology Department and Neuroscience and Behavior Department have an article titled “STEP regulation of seizure thresholds in the hippocampus,” published in Epilepsia, Volume 52, Issue 3, March 2011. Epilepsia is the journal of the International League Against Epilepsy.

The paper’s co-authors include Gloster Aaron assistant professor of biology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior; Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior; Stephen Briggs BA ’07, MA ’08, Jeffrey Walker BA ’08, MA ’09, and biology Ph.D. candidate Kemal Asik. Paul Lombroso, a professor at Yale University, contributed to the report.

This study found that mice lacking a specific enzyme (STEP) have a significantly heightened resistance to developing epileptic seizures. The study then documents a mechanism and location in the brain where this enzyme might have its effect in regulating the seizure thresholds. Briggs and Walker were BA/MA students in the NS&B program, and they worked in the labs of Naegele and Aaron, respectively. Asik works with John Kirn, chair of the Neuroscience and Behavior Department.

Naegele, Students Attend “Mysterious Brain” Forum

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neurosceince and behavior, and a group of Wesleyan students attended the Connecticut Forum on “The Glorius, Mysterious Brain” Feb. 25 at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, Conn. The Connecticut Forum is a nationally recognized, nonprofit organization that offers live, unscripted panel discussions among renowned experts and celebrities, and community outreach programs. Nagele’s group listened to Autism advocate Temple Grandin, author and Harvard professor Steven Pinker and cognitive scientist Paul Bloom.

In addition, Michael Greenberg ’76, chair of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, spoke to Naegele’s students about “experience-dependent changes in gene expression.”

Hingorani, Bricca Explain Science Documentary Filmmaking Class in ASBMB Today

Stephen Devoto, associate professor of biology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is featured in a video created by a student enrolled in the course, Making the Science Documentary.

Manju Hingorani, associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and Jacob Bricca, adjunct assistant professor of film studies, explained their experimental cross-disciplinary course on science documentary filmmaking at Wesleyan in a December 2010 article published in American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) Today.

In the article, Hingorani and Bricca wrote about their course, “Making the Science Documentary,” which they co-taught together, starting in 2007. The course was designed to introduce undergraduate students to the life sciences and to documentary filmmaking

NIMH Supports Naegele’s Cellular Analysis Study

Jan Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior, received a $100,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health for her research on “Molecular and Cellular Analysis of Brand-Enriched PTPs.” The grant will be awarded through March 2010. This is a renewal of a previous grant, which is subcontracted with Yale University.

Students Present Summer Research at Poster Session

Wesleyan presented its annual Summer Research Poster Session July 30 in Exley Science Center. More than 100 students, mostly from Wesleyan, participated. Students are funded from Hughes, the Mellon Foundation, a Rauch Environmental Grant, the Wesleyan McNair Program, Sonnenblick and the Robert Schumann Endowment. Students from the Quantitative Analysis Center also participated.

Biology majors Nora Vogel ’11 and Caleb Corliss ’13 discussed their poster titled “Genetic Variation for Invasiveness: Are there Monster Genotypes in Polygonum cespitosum?” They’ve spent the summer trying to understand what role “monster” genotypes (genotypes with the highest relative fitness) play in the invasive spread of this species. Their advisor is Sonia Sultan, chair of the Biology Department, professor of biology, professor of environmental studies.