M. Diana Neely, Ph.D.
Research Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Overview of Interests
Dr. Neely's recent research has focused on developing an organotypic culture system as a model to study plasticity of striatal projection neurons. Organotypic cultures contain small pieces of brain tissue that in large part retain their three-dimensional cellular composition and reestablish neuronal circuitry very similar to that observed in vivo. These characteristics and the ease of manipulation make these cultures an ideal model system to study the mechanisms governing neuronal development, differentiation, and plasticity. Using cortico-striatal-ventral mesencephalic triple cultures, she has demonstrated that the cortical innervation plays a crucial role in the dopamine-mediated dendritic plasticity of striatal medium spiny neurons.
Changes in dendritic spines and thus synaptic transmission are associated with a variety of brain disorders, including Fragile-X syndrome, Down syndrome, and autism. An understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in neuronal differentiation and the development of neuronal circuits are thus crucial for our understanding of the pathology underlying developmental disorders of the nervous system.