The overarching goal of our research program is to identify and characterize cellular and molecular processes, driven by changes in electrical activity and calcium signaling, that underlie the specification of distinct types of neural cells during normal and dysfunctional development of the mammalian brain.
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In the Panagiotakos lab, we study how electrical activity and calcium signaling regulate the generation of distinct types of neurons during normal development of the mammalian brain, with an eye towards understanding mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders. We employ a variety of approaches to explore how immature, undifferentiated neural progenitor cells integrate intrinsic and extrinsic signals to commit to specific neural fates, such as the different types of excitatory cells inhabiting the cerebral cortex. We are also interested in understanding how activity-regulated developmental mechanisms may be reactivated in the context of adult neurological disorders and the development of brain tumors.
My research interests stem from a curiosity about how undifferentiated progenitor cells integrate intrinsic and extrinsic developmental signals to generate the diversity of cell types in the brain. Building on my undergraduate training in molecular biology at MIT, I first pursued these interests in the laboratories of Drs. Lorenz Studer and Viviane Tabar at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where I performed in vivo and behavioral studies investigating the specification and transplantation of pluripotent stem cell derivatives into the normal and diseased brain. This research, aimed at developing cell replacement therapies for neuro-degenerative disorders, formed the basis for my long-standing fascination with the mechanisms by which cells decide their fate. Using this background as a springboard, my doctoral studies at Stanford University in the laboratories of Drs. Theo Palmer and Ricardo Dolmetsch explored the function of calcium signals through a channel implicated in neuropsychiatric disease on the differentiation of specific neuronal subtypes in the developing mouse cortex and in human stem cell-derived neurons. Based on this work, I was selected to start my lab at UCSF as a Sandler Faculty Fellow in November of 2013. Since arriving at UCSF in late 2014, I have put together a research team that is integrating a variety of complementary approaches to investigate the role of electrical activity, calcium signaling and ion channel diversity in sculpting forebrain development and evolution, with an eye towards elucidating how these mechanisms are altered to give rise to neurodevelopmental disorders and to drive neurodegenerative processes. When I am not in the lab, I enjoy trail running, long hikes with adorable dogs named Astro, cooking, gardening, learning languages, obsessively following politics and listening to podcasts.
I graduated from UC Berkeley with a double major in Theater, Dance and Performance Studies and Molecular and Cell Biology. While there, I first became excited by laboratory science as an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Gabor Somorjai’s physical chemistry lab, where I studied the activity of novel nanoparticle catalysts. After I graduated, I became a research technician at the Gladstone Institutes in the Finkbeiner lab, where I investigated the biology that underlies amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia. My work there motivated me to pursue a Master’s in Stem Cell Biology at the University of Southern California. There I worked in Dr. Leslie Weiner’s lab to probe the biology that goes awry in patients with multiple sclerosis. I am thrilled to be working towards a PhD in the Panagiotakos lab, where I have become interested in calcium regulation in the developing cortex. When I’m not at the bench, I enjoy playing the piano and attending the theater.
I earned my doctorate at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Sloan Kettering Division, where I conducted research in the lab of Dr. Alexandra Joyner. My doctoral studies made use of mouse genetics to study the role of the Sonic hedgehog signaling pathway in adult neurogenesis and in glial biology. After successfully completing my PhD, I continued to follow my passion for regenerative biology in the laboratory of Dr. Asa Abeliovich at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University, where I worked towards developing cell replacement therapies to treat neurodegenerative conditions. Focused on better understanding the molecular substrates underlying the pathology observed in neurodegenerative disorders, I joined the Panagiotakos lab to learn how to study electrical signals and downstream molecular changes in the brain, in order to later apply these lessons in the context of disease. Outside of lab, I enjoy exploring the landscape of food, nature and people in the Bay Area.
Current position: medical student
(UCLA School of Medicine)