Understanding Intracellular Interactions

Dr. G. Miller Jonakait, dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts, researches interactions among cells and molecules within the nervous system.

Interactions among neuropeptides and microglial cells in the brain are the research focus of G. Miller Jonakait, dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts and professor of biological sciences. With grant support from the National Science Foundation, she is looking at how neurons and glia interact both in the normal brain and in the damaged or diseased brain.

Neuropeptides are small molecules that are released by neurons, the cells that carry messages in the nervous system.  Glial cells are thought to support neuronal function.  Microglia, in particular, are the cells responsible for the brain's intrinsic immune system, and are capable of a pro-inflammatory response to infection, neurodegenerative disease, or central nervous system trauma. They can also serve as resident antigen-presenting cells and may produce growth factors that promote survival and/or differentiation of immature neurons. Several specific neuropeptides seem to play a role in regulating microglial responsiveness, particularly in dampening the inflammatory response.  Dr. Jonakait is exploring this neuronal/glial cross-talk hoping to understand the ways in which neurons affect glia and glia affect neurons.