Jan 08, 2019
Dmitriy Ivanov

Assumption Neurobiology Professor Awarded Federal Grant for Neurodevelopment Research

Assumption Associate Professor of Neurobiology Michele Lemons, Ph.D., has secured a highly competitive $301,059 research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for neurodevelopment research. This grant is distinctive for the emphasis it places upon research at undergraduate institutions, in particular, training undergraduates.

“Research supported by this grant is expected to shed novel insights into our understanding of healthy brain formation and function, and could enhance our understanding of the molecular basis of neurodevelopmental disorders,” shared Prof. Lemons, who is also the director of the recently launched Center for Neuroscience at Assumption. “This grant complements Assumption’s recent expansion of neuroscience-related opportunities for its students, including the newly developed Neuroscience major at Assumption.  In addition to its scientific merit, this grant will support key research training opportunities for Assumption students, as well as local biology high school teachers, and students from backgrounds under-represented in science.”  

In addition to enhanced research opportunities for Assumption students, the grant provides funding for the purchase of a fluorescent dissecting microscope that will be accessible to students.   

Brain development involves the formation and fine-tuning of complex networks of connections between nerve cells. These connections occur at specialized sites of nerve cell contact and are often formed on distinctive thorn-like structures (called spines) that protrude from the nerve cells. Structural changes in spines are thought to be important for learning and memory-related processes, and improper spine outgrowth or failure in their maintenance through adulthood can lead to abnormalities in nerve cell communication, as well as decreased learning and memory performance.   This proposed research aims to better understand the molecular signals that drive proper formation and maintenance of spines, which can also lead to a better understanding of learning and memory, in addition to neurodevelopmental disorders.

This project will investigate mechanisms by which spines are formed during development and maintained throughout life using an important model system for identifying and teasing apart novel molecular pathways; a 1 mm nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans. We have recently discovered that connections between some C. elegansnerve cells occur at spine-like structures similar to those in the human brain, thus opening a window of opportunity to gain insights into molecular mechanisms of brain development.

Prof. Lemons will collaborate on her research with co-principle investigators Michael Francis, Ph.D., at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Claire Bénard, Ph.D., at L’Université du Québec à Montréal.

“Research trainees will benefit from conducting research in the liberal arts environment at Assumption in addition to the neighboring premier research environment at UMMS,” added Prof. Lemons.

According to the NSF, its mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. Prof. Lemons’ grant is funded from the neural systems cluster within NSF, which ssupports neuroscience research spanning multiple levels of analysis ranging from the molecular and cellular to the complex behavioral aspects of organisms.

 Prof. Lemons earned her bachelor’s degree at The College of William and Mary as a biology major and psychology minor, and earned a secondary education degree and certification. Prof. Lemons pursued her doctorate of philosophy in neuroscience at the University of Florida. This is the second grant Prof. Lemons was awarded from the federal government, the first an AREA R15 grant from National Institutes of Health during 2011-2015.