GEN 800 Seminar Courses


Spring 2015


GEN 800 Section 001

(also listed as CMB 800 and BMB 960)

Course Title: Genetics of neural tube development and disease

When: Wednesday, 4-6 PM
Where: 1425 BPS

Course Coordinator(s): Dr. Brian Schutte

Course Description:

As the vertebrate embryo moves from a ball of cells to an elongated worm-like structure, something magical happens along its back.  The edges of the dorsal stripe of cells are elevated above the plane and then fold so their apexes meet over the midline.  Multiple layers of cells form at the midline.  The superficial layer fuses to re-establish the ectoderm, the inner cells fuse to form a tube that runs from top to bottom of the embryo, and yet other cells delaminate from this apex and migrate ventrally to populate and become the face.  Since the tube will become the central nervous system, including brain and spinal cord, we call this the neural tube.  In this seminar course you will study the genes and pathways that are required for formation of the neural tube.  However, despite your best efforts, I predict that you will not be able to dispel the possibility that magic is also required.  From this baseline of knowledge and understanding, we will also discuss what is known (and what is not known) about genetic and environmental factors that cause or increase risk for spina bifida and exencephaly.  These are common neural tube defects that affect about 1/1000 babies born world-wide.

GEN 800 Section 002

(also listed as BMB 960)

Course Title: Lipid Disease in Animals and Plants

Course Coordinators: B. Atshaves and S. Hoffmann-Benning

When: Wednesdays, 6:00 PM - 6:50 PM
Where: 208 Biochemistry

Course Description:

Faculty will assign papers covering intra- and intercellular lipid signaling in plants (1st half of the semester; Susanne Hoffmann-Benning) and animals (2nd half of the semester; Barbara Atshaves) and how they relate to proper development, stress response, and disease. Students will give individual presentations of the assigned readings and participate in the discussion. An introductory lecture about general lipid structure and function as well as current methods of lipid analysis and visualization will be given by the instructor (S. Hoffmann-Benning).

NOTE: In addition to the scheduled class time, you will need to be available from 7pm-7:30pm for guest speaker lectures. This course will be taught in conjunction with the Genetics Department (GEN 800) and the Cellular and Molecular Biology Department (CMB 800).


GEN 800 Section 003

(also listed as CMB 800)

Course Title: Mechanisms of Neurodegenerative Diseases

Course Coordinators: Irving E. Vega, PhD

When: Friday, 12PM-1PM
Where: Van Andel Conf. Room 4029, and 1425 BPS

Course Description:

Neurodegenerative diseases affect millions of people worldwide. Alzheimer’s disease (AD), for example, is the 6th leading cause of death and more than 5 million people are diagnosed with this devastating disease in the United States. Unless better diagnostic tools and therapeutics are developed, the number of diagnosed AD cases is expected to triple by 2050. Therefore, for decades, researchers focused on the identification and characterization of molecular mechanisms associated with neurodegenerative diseases. These efforts led to the identification of neuropathological hallmarks that characterize and distinguish different neurodegenerative diseases; for example, alpha-synuclein aggregation in Parkinson’s disease and A-Beta plaques and tau-tangles in AD. The study of these pathological hallmarks gradually contributed to accept the multifactorial nature of neurodegenerative diseases, in contrast to a one-hit/one-disease hypothesis.

In the past five years, research directed to understand the pathogenesis and pathophysiology uncovered the putative role of different molecular mechanisms associated with neurodegeneration. Among the molecular mechanisms identified are proteolysis, epigenetics, microRNA, transcriptional regulation, innate and adaptive immune system, phagocytosis and autophagocytosis, exo/endocytosis, unfolded protein response, cytoskeleton defects, unregulated signaling molecules (i.e. kinases and phosphatases), trafficking molecules, cell cycle, neurogenesis/neurodevelopment, among others. Interestingly, all these molecular mechanisms have been identified through the analysis of tissue from animal models or human post-mortem pathologically confirmed cases, but their specific role in neurodegeneration is still unclear. Thus, it is plausible to consider that all these pathways play a role at a particular phase of the neurodegeneration process or, simply, are drive by the agonal state of the tissue examined. Another conundrum that researchers face is to decipher if the identified molecular marker is involved in a neuronal survival or death pathway. At this junction of the neurodegeneration field, this seminar course aims to critically assess the current
literature on molecular mechanisms associated with neurodegeneration and the approaches used to dissect their putative pathophysiological role.