Summary of Upstate MD/PhD Student Anna Nichols’ Research

Reelin is a secreted protein that is essential for establishing the normal architecture of the mature brain.  Absence of Reelin produces a rare and severe disorder known as Lissencephaly with Cerebellar Hypoplasia (LCH). 

Reelin controls multiple aspects of brain development and has diverse roles in cellular positioning, dendritic growth and synaptic function.  However, the specific way that it alters the behavior of immature neurons to lead to appropriate cellular positioning within the developing cortex has remained enigmatic.  Answering this question was the central aim of my dissertation project. 

My work revealed that during preplate splitting, an early event in cortical development, Reelin acutely promotes cellular orientation and dendritic growth, not migration as the prevailing studies suggested.  Our understanding of Reelin is changing significantly now and it has been a great experience to have played a part in expanding this important field.

My mentor, Eric Olson PhD, has a great deal of experience and expertise in the field and has supported and guided me throughout this process.  Dr. Olson’s excitement about science is contagious and was a much-needed boost during some of the more challenging moments of my training.