Vivian Gama, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology

VKC Member

Overview of Interests

Dr. Gama's laboratory is investigating the molecular mechanisms by which the dynamic properties of the mitochondria (fission, fusion, motility, and mitophagy) affect the most fundamental properties of stem cells – their ability to self-renew or differentiate properly. We are profoundly interested in understanding how “mitochondrial fitness” modulates human brain development. The underlying mechanisms responsible for the extraordinarily complex cognitive capacity of the human brain remain elusive. A central principle governing brain development is the precise spatiotemporally coordinated birth of, and interactions between, a vast number and types of neurons. Recent studies from our laboratory and others, however, point to a new mechanism – one hinted at previously, but currently poorly understood. We propose that a spectrum of mitochondrial fitness properties could provide internal support to the intrinsic developmental programs of various neuronal types, while also being responsive to environmental and intercellular signals. In humans, defects in mitochondrial homeostasis are linked to conditions such as Leigh syndrome (a neurometabolic disorder), MELAS syndrome (a neurodegenerative disorder), and autism spectrum disorder (a neurodevelopmental disorder).