Erik W. Dent, PhD

Position title: Professor, Neuroscience

Erik W. Dent, PhD

Contact Information

Department of Neuroscience
332 SMI
1300 University Ave
Madison, WI 53706
Lab Website: Dent Lab

Research Statement

We are interested in understanding how the central nervous system (CNS) develops and functions at the cellular level. Nervous system structure and function is highly dependent on the cytoskeleton. In the CNS the cytoskeleton is comprised of three polymer systems: actin filaments, microtubules and neurofilaments. Our main focus is understanding how microtubules and actin filaments interact in space and time during important morphological events in neuronal development and adulthood. Our working hypothesis is that many of the same cytoskeletal dynamics that are key for neuritogenesis and axon guidance are recapitulated at later times in development, such as during dendritic spine formation/plasticity. To study these dynamic events we use several forms of high-resolution, time-lapse microscopy, such as total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM), wide-field microscopy and confocal imaging. We have recently discovered that microtubules remain dynamic throughout the life of CNS neurons and specifically target small protrusions on dendrites termed spines. These spines are the sites of contact with presynaptic axons and their activity-induced morphological changes are likely to underlie memory formation. Notably, microtubule invasion of spines is regulated by neuronal activity and may be important for spine maintenance and plasticity. We are currently studying cytoskeletal dynamics in both developing and adult mouse CNS tissue, utilizing transfected hippocampal neurons in culture and in hippocampal slices. We are also collaborating with groups in both Biomedical Engineering and Physics to determine how neurons respond to gradients of guidance cue and how micropatterning substrates affects neurite outgrowth.

Selected Publications