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Dance Your PhD - 2009

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Published on Nov 4, 2008

Graduate student

My PhD dissertation is on the subject of synaptogenesis, studying the molecular cues involved in synapse formation and differentiation that is essential for the developing nervous system. Specifically, our lab studies agrin, a heparan sulfate proteoglycan that has been widely studied for its synaptogenic effects, especially at the neuromuscular junction. My project studies agrin's function in synaptogenesis in the peripheral nervous system.

In this dance, I represent a motile growth cone, an immature neuron searching for its postsynaptic partner to form a synapse. It starts out as a slow awakening, as the growth cone explores its environment. As a growth cone responds to guidance cues in its environment, the growth cone in the video responds to the music with an ebb and flow that reflects the stochastic movement of a growth cone's exploratory path. The nude colored leotard represents the yet-to-be myelinated neuron, decorated with open circles to depict synaptic vesicles characteristic of a presynaptic neuron. The other dancers represent other neurons that serve as possible postsynaptic targets. The growth cone interacts with each target by dancing with them briefly before turning away as the search for the "correct" postsynaptic target continues. The last postsynaptic target is dressed in complementary colors as the growth cone to symbolize complementary molecular cues that direct the final steps of synaptogenesis. The final dip signals that a successful synapse has formed, and synapse formation is complete.

Our collective stats for the five of us in the studio filming this video:

Collective education (earned and ongoing): one Masters in Computer Science, two PhD's in Neuroscience, one PhD in Physiology, one medical (MD) degree, one veterinary (DVM) degree.

Collective dance experience: 17 years and three months of ballet, one quarter of Renaissance dance, a smattering of swing experience.

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