Juan Sanchez-Arias to remotely defend PhD thesis on April 16

Juan Sanchez-Arias 2019On April 16, 2020, Juan Sanchez-Arias (Division of Medical Sciences, Neuroscience Graduate Program) will defend his PhD dissertation. He will address his examining committee remotely due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

Titled “Pannexin 1 Regulates Dendritic Spines in Developing Cortical Neurons,” Sanchez-Arias’ PhD dissertation examines how Pannexin 1 (Panx1) regulates the formation of connections between nerve cells in the brain. More specifically, it explores the role of Panx1 in the development of dendritic spines and neuronal networks.

Our brains rely on synapses to transmit information through large networks of brain cells. The vast majority of these synapses are located at dendritic spines, minuscule structures at the receptive ends of brain cells. These dendritic spines form as our brain continues to develop after we are born. Abnormal dendritic spine development is a hallmark of multiple neurodevelopmental, neuropsychiatric, and neurodegenerative disorders.

Panx1 is a channel protein, meaning it forms regulated doorways into nerve cells. Sanchez-Arias’ work furthers our understanding on cortical development and places Panx1 as a novel regulator of structural and functional plasticity in the brain. It also has important implications for understanding how nerve cell connections are formed in the development of healthy brains vs. brains with disorders like those on the autism spectrum and schizophrenia.

Sanchez-Arias’s most recent research suggests that Panx1 regulation of dendritic spines development is rooted in the protein’s influence on spiny protrusions, the highly dynamic spine precursors. A paper encapsulating this work is currently under review.

You can learn more about Sanchez-Arias’ work in the Swayne lab and his previous publications here.