Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 8 - 2016

Zev Bryant, Bioengineering
Michael Z. Lin, Neurobiology and Bioengineering

Creating new neuronal connections to repair neuronal injury or neurodegeneration has been a longstanding goal in translational neuroscience. However, it has been an elusive goal, due to differences between the fully developed nervous system and the embryonic developing one. Connections in the nervous system are established during development as a result of a tightly orchestrated series of events: extension and guidance of neurites, the long processes of neurons, followed by the development of synapses, the connections between neurons. The timing and location of each step is guided by factors in the environment which are produced transiently and locally. In this new interdisciplinary collaboration, we will apply new technologies developed in our two groups in order to circumvent the complex environment by directly controlling intracellular molecular processes. We have engineered light-controllable proteins that allow remote control over the movement and formation of structures in the cell. We hypothesize that we can use light-controllable proteins to induce neurites to extend, form connections, and create synapses. This project bridges disciplines by finding new applications in neuroscience for recent advances in the fundamental physics and engineering of biomolecules that act as nanoscale motors. By harnessing our combined expertise in biophysics, protein engineering, and neuroscience, this research will improve our understanding of how to use relatively simple processes to build functional connections, and may lead to more effective therapies for neuronal injury or neurodegeneration in the future.