Sumary of Graduate student receives NIH grant to study specific molecule’s role in healthy neurodevelopment:
- In particular, Hernandez and his mentor, Michelle Olsen, associate professor and director of graduate studies in Virginia Tech’s School of Neuroscience, are investigating how a specific molecule – brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) – controls key aspects of healthy brain development.
- Related StoriesPrevious studies have shown that the molecule plays a key role in organizing neuronal circuits, but Hernandez and Olsen are among the first to look at how BDNF influences astrocyte development.
- In 2019, Olsen’s lab published a study in eLife describing how loss of a BDNF receptor molecule in astrocytes caused the star-shaped glial cells to shrink by 30 percent.
- Babies with the condition develop normally for the first few months after birth, before developing severe cognitive impairments, such as loss of speech and motor skills.
- “Humans and mice with Rett syndrome lack this growth factor, which we believe could be causing the improper neuronal development and lack of morphological complexity both neurons and astrocytes need to maintain proper signaling,” Hernandez said.