Marion Van Horn
Neuron-glial interactions in the developing visual system
Marion Van Horn is studying the mechanisms underlying the development of a functional visual system. In particular, she will be examining how individual neurons and glia interact to ensure precise visual development. While glia were once thought to passively surround neurons and hold them in place, it is becoming evident that they play a far more active role in shaping neural development and function.
Although glial cells, unlike neurons, are not electrically excitable cells, they can release a number of gliotransmitters in response to environmental stimuli, which can be used to communicate with and alter the properties of neurons in the adult brain. It remains unknown whether gliotransmitter release plays a functional role in neural development.
Marion's research will combine electrophysiological recordings of neural activity and live imaging of neurons and glial cells, as well as pharmacological and molecular manipulations in the live Xenopus tadpole, to examine the physiological significance of gliotransmitter release and to determine if it plays an active role in shaping neuronal activity and plasticity.
The results are expected to reveal fundamental mechanisms that are relevant to all developing nervous systems. Ultimately, this research will help establish how the visual system develops normally so that treatments for visual impairments can be further developed and refined.
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