A Zebrafish Model to Study Microglial-Extracellular Matrix Dynamics During Synapse Development

2021 Seed Grant
Anna V. Molofsky, M.D., Ph.D.
University of California San Francisco

Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation Seed Grant

The connections between nerve cells- called synapses- are essential for all brain functions, including thinking, behavior, and movement. Impaired development of these synaptic connections can contribute to disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), schizophrenia, and epilepsy. Dr. Molofsky’s group studies a type of brain cell called microglia which are present in the brain but are also a part of the immune system. Microglia can help new synaptic connections to form and can remove synapses that are no longer needed. However, it is not currently possible to observe these processes happening in real time. In this project, Dr. Molofsky’s lab will develop tools and techniques to study microglia, synapses, and the ʻin betweenʼ spaces of the brain in a living animal. They will use zebrafish, a small, transparent fish that develops outside the body, thus can be visualized with a high powered microscope. Using zebrafish embryos, they can watch the brain developing, and directly examine the movements and connections between brain cells in real time. These studies will lead to new discoveries about how the brain’s immune cells promote healthy brain function, and suggest new therapies.

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