Bernardo Pinto, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
University of Chicago
929 E. 57th St.
City, State, ZIP
Chicago, IL 60637
[email protected]
Research field
Award year
Mentor name
Francisco Bezanilla, Ph.D.

In the Bezanilla lab, I will investigate how nerve cells produce the proteins they need to support electrical activity and chemical signaling at their outermost extensions. Neurons face a unique challenge: The axons that sprout from their cell bodies and carry electrical signals to other neurons or to muscle cells can be incredibly long. In humans, some stretch 3 feet or more. To support proper function, neurons need to make sure that these axons are equipped with the proteins they need to locate and establish connections with their target cells and to regulate the flow of ions across their membrane, the source of their electrical properties. Producing all of these proteins in the cell body and then shipping them down the length of the axon would be highly inefficient; therefore, many axonal proteins are made locally within the axon. What is unclear is where the instructions for making these axonal proteins originate. Using cutting-edge techniques in cell and molecular neurobiology and bioinformatics, combined with classical methods for studying giant axons harvested from squid, I will identify which proteins are produced in isolated axons and whether their synthesis is enhanced by neuronal activity. I will also explore whether the supportive cells that surround neurons donate any of their proteins to the axon—or if they supply any of the RNAs that encode axonal proteins. Our findings could lead to novel treatments for neurodegenerative conditions in which axonal protein synthesis is disrupted, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

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