The molecular mechanisms of brain development to control future brain function may hold the key to preventing diseases of the central nervous system. Mary E. Hatten, Ph.D., the Frederick P. Rose professor and director of the Laboratory of Developmental Neurobiology at The Rockefeller University in New York, will discuss her research on brain development as the next speaker in the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Distinguished Public Lecture Series.

Her discussion on gene influence in brain development, titled, “Mechanisms of Brain Development: Migration and Circuit Formation,” will take place from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on April 14 at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke, Virginia.  The public lecture is preceded by a reception at 5 p.m. in the Virginia Tech Carilion café.

“Dr. Hatten is one of the most distinguished and highly recognized developmental neuroscientists in the world,” said Michael Friedlander, the vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech. Friedlander is also the executive director of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. “She is a world leader in understanding how nerve cells migrate and move into their correct positions within the developing brain—a property essential to the establishment of proper connectivity in the brain and one, when compromised, that can lead to tragic consequences for the assembly of functional circuits in the brain such as intellectual disabilities. Her work has provided profound insights that are essential to understanding the development of children’s cognitive and behavioral abilities.”

Hatten studies the development of the mammalian brain’s complex cellular and synaptic architecture. Her research on how neurons and glial cells differentiate and migrate in the brain has provided foundational information for understanding brain and behavioral disorders, including autism, attention deficit disorder, and childhood epilepsy. Her work has also provided insights on medulloblastoma, a prevalent childhood metastatic brain cancer.

Hatten was among the first scientists to utilize direct real-time visualization of the movements of neurons along glial cells, combined with molecular genetic analysis, to elucidate the mechanisms that control neuronal migration and differentiation in the living brain. She has identified multiple genes and proteins including astrotactin, a neuronal antigen that mediates neuronal migration along glial cells in both the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex.

She has also identified another astrotactin-related gene and protein, called ASTN2, as a risk factor in autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Recent experiments show that ASTN2 localizes to synapses, and may be involved in affecting the structural and functional changes that occur during learning and memory formation—synaptic plasticity.

Hatten earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry at Hollins University, before obtaining her Ph.D. at Princeton University, and completing her postdoctoral studies at Harvard University. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hatten has received the National Science Foundation Faculty Award for Women Scientists and Engineers, the Irma Hirschl Career Scientist Award, the Pew Neuroscience Award, and a National Institutes of Health Senator Jacob Javits Neurosccience Investigator Award. Hatten was also  the first female professor at The Rockefeller University.

The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Distinguished Public Lecture Series is free and open to the public.

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