The Transport of Mitochondria and Lysosomes During Synapse Formation and Plasticity

Kerriann Badal, pursuing her PhD at The Scripps Research Institute.

I am a 3rd year PhD student conducting my research in Dr. Sathyanarayanan Puthanveettil’s lab at Scripps Research, Florida. My research goal is to understand the significance and regulation of bidirectionally transported organelles within the axon during learning and memory.  Specifically, I study the transport of mitochondria (that supplies energy) and lysosomes (that degrades and facilitate recycling of cellular materials) during synapse formation and plasticity. I am using the well-defined neural circuits of sea slug Aplysia californica for these investigations.

By systematically quantifying the flux and velocity of bidirectional transport of mitochondria, I found that the flux of mitochondrial transport is persistently enhanced in presynaptic sensory neurons during synapse formation and maintenance. Furthermore, we find that synapse formation persistently alters presynaptic transcriptome (Badal et al., 2019). These observations were striking because of the long-lasting changes induced by synapse formation. Currently, I am studying whether other organelles are also regulated in a similar manner and how organelle transport regulated during learning.  

Outside of the lab, I am passionate about educational outreach. Particularly, I am working to inspire local middle school students about the excitements in neuroscience. For further enhancing these efforts, I have started a “Network for women in STEM” club where I strive to enhance access to STEM tools and opportunities for young girls and women. Additionally, I provide the opportunity for young women to talk to a scientist on multiple platforms and ask questions in a nonformal and stress-free environment.

This blog post was written by one of our winners, Kerriann Badal, of the Graduate Student Nomination Contest 2021. She is currently pursuing her PhD at The Scripps Research Institute.

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