Nicola J. Allen, Ph.D.

Title
Assistant Professor
Department
Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory
Institution
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
Address
10010 North Torrey Pines Road
City, State, Zip
La Jolla, CA 92037
Phone
858-453-4100 x2129
E-mail
nallen[at]salk.edu
Website
http://www.salk.edu/faculty/allen.html
Research Field
Neuroscience
Award Year
2015

Research

The goal of my research is to investigate the role of astrocytes in reinforcing the brain's ability to learn new tasks and make sense of its environment. Astrocytes are the most abundant cells in the brain and play critical roles in regulating neuronal function. During my postdoctoral fellowship, I identified molecules that astrocytes use to guide the formation of neuronal connections in the developing mammalian brain. I will now extend this work to analyzing the critical period of development when newborns rewire their brains in response to the stream of visual input. I will identify the molecules astrocytes secrete to promote this visual rewiring in juvenile rodents. I will then attempt to modify adult astrocytes so they, too, can produce these rejuvenating molecular signals, persuading their neuronal neighbors to form the sort of new connections they once did in their youth. These findings may identify new ways to enhance neural function in a variety of sensory and neurological disorders, such as ocular degeneration.