Pictured above: IBRO Return Home Fellow 2017, Dr. Urte Neniskyte from Lithuania (second from left), being awarded the L'Oréal-UNESCO Baltic "For Women in Science" fellowship.
Dr. Urte Neniskyte (Lithuania) was awarded an IBRO 2017 Return Home Fellowship to support her move from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Italy) back to Lithuania, where she wanted to start her own lab at Vilnius University in the Department of Neurobiology and Biophysics of the Joint Life Science Center. She obtained her PhD at the University of Cambridge (UK) in molecular developmental neuroscience and is currently investigating molecular mechanisms that guide synaptic pruning in the developing brain during brain circuit maturation.
She is now working closely with Dr. Aidas Alaburda, Professor of Neurophysiology, Dr. Osvaldas Ruksenas, Professor of Behavioural Neuroscience, and other colleagues to establish a research group of molecular neuroscience and ensure the significant two-way transfer of knowledge between neuroscientists at the Center. Neniskyte is specifically sharing her experience in tissue culture preparations, genetic manipulation of tissues, the application of pharmacogenetic tools and the development of novel chemical tools, as well as transferring her broad knowledge in advanced microscopy techniques and image analysis methods.
For research accomplishments already achieved, Dr. Neniskyte was awarded the prestigious L`Oréal-UNESCO Baltic “For Women in Science” fellowship on 26 May 2017 with the support of the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO and the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. She is the first scientist in Lithuania to ever receive this award. To learn more about Dr. Neniskyte and her research, read about the progress she has made as an IBRO Return Home Fellow below and watch her L`Oréal-UNESCO award video.
IBRO RETURN HOME FELLOWSHIP UPDATE
Dr. Urte Neniskyte, Vilnius University, Department of Neurobiology and Biophysics, Joint Life Science Center
Currently we continue our studies on how PtdSer exposure contributes to the discrimination of synapses in developing hippocampus. To determine the functional consequences of morphological changes observed in phospholipid scramblase-deficient animals we assessed the maturation of excitatory circuitry by neurophysiological measurements in acute slices from wild-type and Xkr8 knock-out littermates at P40. Based on our electrophysiological findings we concluded that despite normal functional connectivity Xkr8-/- animals have immature synaptic function and immature AMPA/NMDA ratio. The density of synaptic release sites was increased and short-term plasticity was enhanced in Xkr8-/- animals. These data supported our hypothesis that deficient phosphatidylserine scrambling has both morphological and functional consequences for developing circuitry in hippocampus.
To investigate the role of phosphatidylserine in microglia-neuron interactions in developing brain, we performed triple labelling studies. Brain samples from Cx3cr1::tdTomato;Thy1::GFP mice, which have microglia in red and pyramidal neurons in green, were labelled for MFG-E8 (phosphatidylserine-specific opsonin that can be used as a proxy marker of phosphatidyserine exposure in fixed tissue samples). Confocal microscopy imaging revealed that microglia preferentially contact postsynaptic dendritic spines that have bound MFG-E8. We are currently performing corresponding analysis of presynaptic axonal boutons.
To investigate how the exposure of phosphatidylserine and the upstream activation of caspase-3 are changed in Xkr8-deficient hippocampus, we performed IHC study in wildtype and Xkr8-/- animals. We found decreased total caspase-3 activation and no changes in net phosphatidylserine exposure. We are currently performing more detailed analysis of neuron-specific caspase-3 activation and phosphatidylserine in both presynaptic CA3 and postsynaptic CA1 neurons.
I am continuing my international collaborations with Dr. Cornelius Gross (European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Italy), Dr. Davide Ragozzino (La Sapienza, University of Rome, Italy) and Prof. Guy Brown (University of Cambridge, UK). At the moment, with Dr. Gross, we are preparing publications of my previous and current work. Dr. Ragozzino is supporting our electrophysiology experiments and helps with the analysis of acquired data, and Professor Brown currently hosts my graduate student, who analyses the brain samples of Mfge8-/- mice that I had previously collected.
Establishing the Laboratory
Public procurement procedures have been started to acquire the equipment that is necessary for our experiments and currently lacking in the Life Science Center. A tissue chopper has been successfully acquired and will be in use in the next couple of weeks. The procedures for the acquisition of the vibratome and image analysis workstation are still being carried out and should be finalized in the next couple of months. I have hired a junior research associate to help me to run the lab and to supervise undergraduate student work. Currently my lab consists of one junior research associate, one graduate student and one bachelor student. A summer intern will join the lab for two months starting in August. I have also been allocated the funding for one PhD student and the selection is currently in progress.
Other Achievements and Activities
On May 26th of this year, I was awarded the L`ORÉAL Baltic “For Women in Science” fellowship with the support of the Lithuanian National Commission for UNESCO and the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences. I am the first one in Lithuania to receive this award. The reception of the award has publicized my research and I have had a lot of public exposure over the last month. This includes two radio interviews and five articles in the Lithuanian press and news portals (one of which included a video about my research).
This year, I also attended a program broadcasted by the Lithuanian National Television where I had a chance to talk about my studies. I was invited to two meetings at local companies to present my research and trends of current neuroscience to the general public. This included two meetings with parents raising children with neurodevelopmental disorders and the professionals that treat them to discuss current scientific approaches to neurodevelopment and emerging treatment strategies.
IBRO congratulates Dr. Neniskyte on her outstanding progress and recognition and hopes to support her continued success in the future. For more information on IBRO Return Home Fellowships, please click here.