I am interested in RNA function in the nervous system and how its disruption can lead to neurodegeneration. Currently the goal of my research is to determine how dominant mutations in glycyl-tRNA synthetase (GARS) cause Charcot-Marie-Tooth Type 2D (CMT2D) peripheral neuropathy. I am using cell type-specific in vivo methods, such as non-canonical amino acid-tagging and ribosome-tagging, to profile translation in motor neurons of established mouse models of CMT2D. This approach is revealing testable disease mechanisms as well as uncovering new motor neuron biology.
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering
Advisor: Dr. Robert Burgess
MEd, Secondary Science Education
Patients with Charcot-Marie-Tooth Type 2D (CMT2D), caused by dominant mutations in Glycl tRNA synthetase (GARS), present with progressive weakness, consistently in the hands, but often in the feet also. Electromyography shows denervation, and patients often report that early symptoms include cramps brought on by cold or exertion. Based on reported clinical observations, and studies of mouse models of CMT2D, we sought to determine whether weakened synaptic transmission at the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) is an aspect of CMT2D. Quantal analysis of NMJs in two different mouse models of CMT2D (Gars(P278KY), Gars(C201R)), found synaptic deficits that correlated with disease severity and progressed with age. Results of voltage-clamp studies revealed presynaptic defects characterized by: (1) decreased frequency of spontaneous release without any change in quantal amplitude (miniature endplate current), (2) reduced amplitude of evoked release (endplate current) and quantal content, (3) age-dependent changes in the extent of depression in response to repetitive stimulation, and (4) release failures at some NMJs with high-frequency, long-duration stimulation. Drugs that modify synaptic efficacy were tested to see whether neuromuscular performance improved. The presynaptic action of 3,4 diaminopyridine was not beneficial, whereas postsynaptic-acting physostigmine did improve performance. Smaller mutant NMJs with correspondingly fewer vesicles and partial denervation that eliminates some release sites also contribute to the reduction of release at a proportion of mutant NMJs. Together, these voltage-clamp data suggest that a number of release processes, while essentially intact, likely operate suboptimally at most NMJs of CMT2D mice.