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Research in the Brown Lab

Axonal transport and the cytoskeleton of nerve cells

Nerve cells extend long branched processes called axons and dendrites that form the wiring pattern of the nervous system, allowing these cells to communicate with each other and with other cells throughout the body. This remarkable cellular morphology is critically dependent on a microscopic three-dimensional network of cytoplasmic protein polymers and accessory proteins called the cytoskeleton.

Our research is focused on the cytoskeleton and intracellular movement in axons, which is known as axonal transport. We are particularly interested in neurofilaments, which are one of three classes of protein polymers that make up the axonal cytoskeleton.

Neurofilaments are structural polymers that influence axonal size and shape, which is a critical determinant of their conduction velocity, but they are also cargoes of axonal transport, which means that their organization is maintained dynamically. We are fascinated by this duality of architecture and dynamics and its importance for axonal morphology and physiology.

Neurofilaments are also of clinical interest because their movement and organization is disrupted in many neurodegenerative diseases. We use a broad range of cellular and molecular techniques to study the assembly, transport, organization and function of neurofilaments in health and disease.