The Other Brain Cells: New Insights into What Glial Cells Do

SfN Member-Only Virtual Conference

An explosion of recent work has revealed that the glial cells of the central nervous system, so often ignored, actually play many essential roles, far beyond the simple “nutritive” and “support” roles initially hypothesized.

In this virtual conference, experts in the biology of astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and microglia will share new insights into glial cells as key players in nervous system function. These insights come from work in a variety of animal species, ranging from fruit flies to humans.

Topics to be covered include gliotransmission, large-scale excitation of astrocytes, roles for astrocytes and microglia in synaptic pruning, glial roles in energy metabolism and homeostasis, activity-dependent remodeling of myelin by oligodendrocytes, and distinct features of human astrocytes that may contribute to advanced cognitive functions. For more details and timing, view the day's full agenda.

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Leslie Tolbert, PhD, University of Arizona 

Leslie P. Tolbert is a Regents’ Professor in the department of neuroscience at the University of Arizona. For eight years, she also served as the university's vice president for research, overseeing research and graduate education activities. Tolbert's laboratory uses insect models to study roles of glial cells in development and in ongoing modulation of mature circuits. She received her PhD and carried out her postdoctoral studies at Harvard University.



Axel Nimmerjahn, PhD, Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Axel Nimmerjahn is an assistant professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. His work focuses on the development and application of new microscopy techniques to further what we know about the central nervous system, and particularly the role of glial cells in healthy and diseased brain and spinal cord function. He earned his PhD at the Max-Planck-Institute for Medical Research and completed his postdoctoral training at Stanford University.



Beth Stevens, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Boston Children's Hospital

Beth Stevens is an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard University. She has previously received several awards including the Dana Foundation Award (Brain and Immunoimaging), Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar in Aging award, John Merck Scholar Program, MacArthur Fellows Program and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PCASE). Stevens’ lab is interested in interactions between the two fundamental cell types of the nervous system, neurons and glia. The laboratory seeks to understand how neuron-glia communication facilitates the formation, elimination and plasticity of synapses — the points of communication between neurons — during both healthy development and disease states. Stevens received her PhD in Neuroscience in 2003 from the University of Maryland, College Park and NIH and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the Stanford University School of Medicine in 2008.



Bruce Ransom, MD, PhD, University of Washington Medicine Neurology Department

Bruce Ransom is professor and chairman of the University of Washington Neurology Department and adjunct professor of physiology and biophysics. He was previously a neurology faculty member at both Yale and Stanford Universities before moving to the University of Washington to become the founding chair of the department of neurology. Ransom’s expertise is the cellular mechanisms of brain injury (especially CNS white matter), brain energy metabolism, and the physiology and function of glial cells. Ransom earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota and his MD and PhD from Washington University Medical School. He received his training in neurology at Stanford University. He is the founding editor-in-chief of the journal GLIA.



Don van Meyel, PhD, McGill University

Don van Meyel is an associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at McGill University, and director of the Centre for Translational Biology at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. An important component of his research program uses the Drosophila CNS as a model system to study the births and differentiation of astrocytes, their interactions with neurons, and their dysfunction in CNS diseases.



Doug Fields, PhD, National Institutes of Health, NICHD

Douglas Fields is chief of the Nervous System Development and Plasticity Section at NIH National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, as well as the author of the books Why We Snap and The Other Brain. He has previously written on the topic of neuroscience for Outside Magazine and Scientific American, and contributes regularly to The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. Fields’ research focuses on the mechanism that regulate the nervous system in response in response to neural impulse activity during development relative to memory. Another major focus of his research is activity-dependent plasticity of myelin. He received his BA from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1975, an MA  in 1979 at San Jose State University, and a PhD from the University of California, San Diego, working jointly in the Medical School and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He conducted postdoctoral research at Stanford University, Yale University, and NIH.



Helmut Kettenmann, PhD, Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine

Helmut Kettenmann is a professor at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine. He previously founded the “European Meeting on Glial Cells in Health and Disease” in 1994 and continues to organize these conferences. Kettenman’s research focuses on understanding the physiological and pathological roles of glial cells. He studied biology at University of Heidelberg and carried out his thesis at the Institute of Neurobiology at the University of Heidelberg.



Jeffrey D. Rothstein, MD, PhD, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Jeff Rothstein is a professor in the department of neurology and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He is the director of the Brain Science Institute, a cross-campus academic unit that focuses on translating basic and clinical neuroscience into human interventions. He founded and directs the Robert Packard Center for ALS Research at Johns Hopkins, an international collaborative research consortium that funds investigators worldwide to understand ALS pathogenesis, build disease models, and develop therapeutic interventions. Rothstein’s research focuses on understanding the basic regulation of neuronal, oligodendroglial, and astroglial glutamate and metabolic transporters and how dysregulation of these proteins can contribute to neurodegenerative disorders. He received his BA from Colgate University, received a masters from the University of Chicago, and carried out his medical doctoral studies at the University of Illinois in physiology and biophysics.



Lynne Oland, PhD, University of Arizona

Lynne Oland is a professor of neuroscience as well as the developer and director of the neuroscience and cognitive science undergraduate program at the University of Arizona. She previously served as president of The Arc in Tucson and continues to organize Brain Awareness Week activities. Oland’s research focuses on neuron-glial cell during development and during normal functioning of mature neuronal circuits. She received a BS in nursing from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, an MS in nursing from the Catholic University of America, and a PhD in physiology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She did postdoctoral work in the department of anatomy and cell biology at Georgetown University.



Maiken Nedergaard, MD, DMSc, University of Rochester

Maiken Nedergaard is the co-director of the department of neurosurgery and the Frank P. Smith Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Her research focuses on defining new strategies for the treatment of neurological diseases that target astrocytic dysfunction. Nedergaard received her doctorate and doctorate of medical sciences at the University of Copenhagen, and did her postdoctoral studies at both the University of Copenhagen and Cornell University Medical School.



Marc Freeman, PhD, Vollum Institute at Oregon Health and Sciences University

Marc Freeman is the Director of the Vollum Institute at Oregon Health and Sciences University, having recently moved from the Department of Neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where he was an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.  Since 2003 his laboratory has aimed to understand the development and function of glial cells, in particular astrocytes, in nervous system assembly, circuit physiology, and behavior. Freeman's research also focuses on neuron-glia signaling after injury, where they explore how neurons destroy themselves and signal to glia for timely clearance, and how these events might go awry in disease. He completed his bachelors at Eastern Connecticut State University, received his PhD at Yale University, and carried out his postdoctoral studies at the University of Oregon.



Soyon Hong, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Boston Children's Hospital

Soyon Hong is a postdoctoral fellow in Beth Stevens' lab at Harvard Medical School/Boston Children's Hospital. She is interested in how neurons and glia interact to shape synapses during development and how similar neuroglia interactions are involved in the breakdown of functional synapses in adult CNS during disease. In particular, her project focuses on investigating immune-related mechanisms of synapse loss in Alzheimer's disease. Hong recently graduated from Harvard's Program in Neuroscience.



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