Tools to Measure Dynamic Molecular Changes in Neurons

We aim to illuminate the secrets of biology by building tools to peer into and manipulate molecular processes of behaving C. elegans in real time. Our current endeavors include developing calcium and cGMP reporters to observe and quantify neuronal activity. We are also interested in probing neuronal chromosome dynamics and their movement within the nucleus and chromatin state using CRISPR- based chromosomal imaging techniques. In addition, we have previously shown that the 3’UTR of egl-4 is important for regulated spatially localized translation (Kaye et al., Neuron 2009) and are interested in developing tools to probe this process.

Collaborators: Kato at UCSFWittmann at UCSF, Huang at UCSF, VanHoven at SJSU, Ferkey at SUNY Buffalo, Juang at National Chiao Tsung University

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GCaMP calcium reporter expressed in the ASER neuron responding to a change in salt concentration

Image by Sarah Woldemariam

Synaptic Plasticity

The fully mapped out nervous system has allowed us to develop methods to examine synapse plasticity during learning and memory formation with cellular, synaptic and molecular precision. How are synapses affected by prolonged signaling and do these changes result in memory formation? Where is the engram for memory? Our goal is to build tools to watch RNA handling in neurons in real time as they learn about odor.

Collaborators: Floor at UCSF, VanHoven at SJSU

AWC olfactory neuron with GRASP puncta

Image by Torsten Wittmann

Learning and Memory

How do neurons change when an organism learns a new behavior? How do these changes allow organisms to form and keep memories of what they learned? Our lab has projects focused on manipulating and quantitating the learning, memory, and consolidation processes. Ultimately we hope to gain an understanding of whole brain activity as the animals acquire and perhaps consolidate memory.

Petri Dish

Chemotaxis plates from Kelli Benedetti

Photos by Kanaga Rajan

Small RNA in Neuronal Function and Beyond...

Neuronal signaling affects physiology as a whole and, in particular, RNA biology. Previous findings from our lab show that the nuclear RNAi pathway is important for odor learning. (Juang et al., Cell 2013) We are investigating the biogenesis of these small RNAs in the neuron upon olfactory stimulation. Once formed, how might such RNA based or elicited signals get out of the neuron? And finally, once in their target tissue, what is the function of small RNAs in maintaining cell populations and tissue integrity?

Collaborators: Goga at UCSF, Floor at UCSF, Dernburg at UC Berkeley

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DAPI and HTP-3 staining of the wild type C.elegans germ line

Images by Aarati Asundi in collaboration with Gina Caldas (Dernburg lab)