Picture trying to move one arm forward, but involuntarily moving the other as well. Now imagine trying to take a simple step with one leg, but both legs move forward at the same time. Instead of walking, one’s gait becomes more of a “hop.” A mutation in a critical gene causes some people to be born with this developmental defect called “mirrored movement.”
As doctoral candidates in Integrative Biology working under Rodney Murphey, Ph.D., Melissa Borgen and Brian Orr focused on gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms in the brain that cause this type of developmental disorder in organisms, including humans, mice and fruit flies.
Using the fruit fly central nervous system as a model organism, Borgen and Orr found that two classic axon guidance molecules are required for synapse assembly, thus enabling communication between neurons. These molecules are also found in mammalian neurons and interact in human development to form the nervous system. Through this research, scientists may gain a better understanding of the mechanisms behind this type of developmental defect.
The high-impact Journal of Neuroscience recently published their work, “Netrin and Frazzled Regulate Presynaptic Gap Junctions at a Drosophila Giant Synapse.” Phyllis Caruccio, laboratory manager and genetics technician, and Murphey were co-authors on the article.
“Melissa and Brian’s research is one of the nicest pieces of work to be done in my lab,” said Murphey, chairman of FAU’s Department of Biological Sciences and director of the Jupiter Life Science Initiative. “Reviewers called this work ‘beautiful’ and ‘lovely.’ It is rare for young scientists to receive such high praise.”
Their successful research led to impressive job offers. This past January, Orr began his postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Francisco with one of the nation’s top neuroscience groups. He is working under Grae Davis, Ph.D., chairman of Biochemistry and Biophysics, conducting experiments to study the biological mechanisms that return synapses back to normal after agitation.
“It is extremely challenging and exciting to be here at UCSF,” said Orr. “I’m working hard and my training at FAU is paying off.”
For her part, Borgen began her postdoctoral fellowship at Scripps Florida, another of the nation’s most highly regarded neuroscience programs. Under the mentorship of Brock Grill, Ph.D., Borgen is working to identify and analyze candidate molecular coordinators of neuronal development.
“I'm thrilled to be working in such a prestigious institute," said Borgen. "The research I'm doing now relates to the work I did for my dissertation. So, my experience at FAU directly provided me with the knowledge, skills and opportunity to continue my research career at Scripps."