In studying how growth factors are internalized into the cell and how they move through the neuron, Rodal's lab has developed new microscopy techniques that give them the ability to observe the process in real time in fruit fly neurons.
Her hypothesis is that electrical activity in neurons lead to a change in how growth factor receptors are moving back and communicating to the neuron, telling it whether it should grow, survive, or become stronger or weaker.
"What I wanted to do in this project was to draw the connection between firing of the neuron and traffic of these receptors," says Rodal. "I'm in a good position to do that is because I have this great model system where I can make neurons fire the way I want them to, and I can look at the receptors trafficking."
Rodal wants to know: does a neuron that fires a lot shunt its growth factors faster, or is it something completely different? The other part of her project involves purifying the molecular machines that drive these different methods of transportation to see how they are different between neurons that are firing frequently versus infrequently. This work will pinpoint strategies that healthy neurons use to alter growth signaling, giving researchers new ideas for therapeutics to correct growth signaling defects in neurodegenerative disease patients.
"In Lou Gehrig's disease, motor neurons that innervate your finger die, in part because they lack these growth factors," says Rodal. "In neurodegenerative diseases, the molecular machines that drive membrane traffic go wrong. We'd like to be able to turn growth factor signaling back into a healthy state, and to do that, we need to know what's happening to each one of these machines that moves things from one compartment to another."
|Contact: susan Chaityn Lebovits|