Susan J. Birren, Ph.D.

Title
Professor
Department
Department of Biology
Institution
Brandeis University
Address
415 South Street
City, State, Zip
Waltham, MA 2454
Phone
(781) 736-2680
E-mail
birren[at]brandeis.edu
Website
http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/birrenlab/index.html
Research Field
Developmental Biology
Award Year
1996

Research

My laboratory is interested in understanding how embryonic precursor cells respond to local environmental cues during the development of the mammalian nervous system. We have focused on two developmental stages in the rat peripheral nervous system: the restriction of neural precursor cells to specific neuronal lineages and the development and function of synaptic connections. Another focus of the laboratory is to understand the role of target-derived trophic factors on the formation and function of synapses between sympathetic neurons and heart tissue. Nerve growth factor (NGF), acting through the trkA receptor tyrosine kinase, plays a role in the development and survival sympathetic neurons. We have recently demonstrated that NGF also acts to acutely potentiate synaptic transmission between sympathetic neurons and cardiac myocytes in culture. Ongoing investigations in the laboratory are also addressing the developmental role of NGF in the establishment of peripheral synaptic connections. We have found that NGF acts as one signal in a series of interactions between neurons and myocytes resulting in the development of sympathetic presynaptic machinery.