The individual laboratories within Developmental Neuroscience focus on the genetic regulation of brain development and synapse formation, the study of the synaptic changes that occur with learning, and on discovery of genes that influence developmental disorders in children.
Dr. Anna Dunaevsky’s research is focused on how brain circuits are formed during development and how they are altered with learning. This is done by studying how the synaptic connections between brain cells change as a motor skill is learned. Since difficulties with motor skill learning are common in children with autism and other developmental disorders, her studies of the synaptic mechanism of motor skill learning are very relevant to these disorders. State-of-the-art microscopy approaches are used to follow the same neurons and synapses at different stages of development and learning in mice. Understanding the neurological mechanisms underlying the learning process is expected to provide important knowledge to develop therapies for cognitive disabilities and autism spectrum disorders.
Dr. Woo-Yang Kim’s laboratory is investigating the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying brain development, particularly in how new neurons are generated and how they are interconnected to each other to make functional brain circuitry. These processes are essential for communication across the brain, and disruption of this communication is involved in many neurodevelopmental disorders. Neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorders and severe developmental delays, are currently incurable and there are no pharmacological or genetic treatment tools. Dr. Kim’s laboratory is tackling this problem by taking neurobiological and genetic approaches to define molecular and cellular pathologies of these disorders.
Dr. Jyothi Arikkath studies the genetic and molecular regulation of neuronal formation and maintenance of synaptic connections. She investigates how changes at the level of synapses contribute to the ability to learn and retain memory, and how alterations in synaptic structure and function contribute to the pathology of autism and developmental disorders. The expectation is that these studies will significantly contribute to the development of medications that will aid therapy of these disorders.
Dr. Shelley Smith’s research involves the localization and identification of genes that contribute to communication disorders in children, particularly reading disability (dyslexia), language impairment, speech sound (phonologic) disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These conditions can be distinct clinically, but have some overlap in their underlying developmental mechanisms. Identification of the genetic and environmental interactions that affect language and learning abilities can lead to the discovery of the neurodevelopmental processes that are impeded by these disorders. This should aid in the development of improved diagnostic and treatment procedures based on the etiologic factors at the heart of each child’s difficulties. These studies are done in collaboration with the University of Colorado, the University of Denver, and the University of Kansas.
For more detailed information about each person’s research program, please see their individual faculty pages.