NIH funds Exploratory Development Grant for Paul Kulesa

Director of Imaging Paul Kulesa, PhD, received a NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke grant, which will provide additional funds to study TrkB signaling during development of the sympathetic nervous system. Mistakes during development can result in improper sympathetic nervous system function and can lead to a deadly pediatric cancer of the peripheral nervous system called neuroblastoma.

Recent studies have shown that aggressive neuroblastomas express high levels of the growth factor receptor TrkB. Previously, Kulesa theorized that signaling through TrkB normally functions to regulate the plasticity and invasiveness of the neural crest cell population during a critical period of sympathetic nervous system development—that period when a neuroblast may transform into a neuroblastoma. By studying how normal cell behaviors change when the protein TrkB signaling is disrupted, they hope to learn the functional role of TrkB and details of neuroblastoma progression that may be used to develop clinical strategies to prevent or treat birth defects and neuroblastomas.

The Kulesa Lab is the first to probe the relationship between the neural crest and neuroblastoma by using state-of-the-art imaging to visualize cell behaviors in living quail embryos. Advances in dynamic live imaging will allow them to identify and analyze complex molecular and behavioral traits associated with neural development and neuroblastoma.