Neurobiology News

Perineuronal Nets Suppress Plasticity of Excitatory Synapses on CA2 Pyramidal Neurons

Kelly E. Carstens, Mary L. Phillips, Lucas Pozzo-Miller, Richard J. Weinberg, and Serena M. Dudek

The Journal of Neuroscience, 8 June 2016, 36(23):6312-6320; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0245-16.2016 FEATURED ARTICLE COVER ILLUSTRATION

NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising

Cristin Gavin at University of Alabama at Birmingham, has been selected as an Outstanding New Advisor Award Winner in the Faculty Academic Advising category from the NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising as part of the 2016 Annual Awards Program for Academic Advising.

This award is presented to individuals who have demonstrated qualities associated with outstanding academic advising of students and who have served as an advisor for a period of three (3) or fewer years. The Faculty Academic Advising category includes those individuals whose primary responsibility is teaching and who spend a portion of their time providing academic advising services to students.

Since 1983, NACADA has honored individuals and institutions making significant contributions to the improvement of academic advising. The goal of NACADA is to promote quality academic advising and professional development of its membership to enhance the educational development of students. NACADA’s membership has grown to over 10,000 faculty, professional advisors, administrators, counselors, and others in academic and student affairs concerned with the intellectual, personal, and vocational needs of students. In addition, NACADA is the representative and advocate of academic advising and those providing that service to higher education.

Cristin Gavin will be honored and presented with this award in Atlanta, GA during the NACADA Annual Conference this fall.

For more information about the Annual Awards Program for Academic Advising, visit the NACADA web page at Or Contact: Farrah Turner, NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising 785-532-5717, fax 785-532-7732,

By Kendra Carter 

John J. Hablitz, longtime professor in the UAB School of Medicine, has been named interim chair of the Department of Neurobiology.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to serve as interim chair for the outstanding members of the Neurobiology Department,” Hablitz said.

J. David Sweatt, Ph.D., who has served as Neurobiology department chair the past 10 years, will leave UAB to chair the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University. Hablitz previously served as interim department chair before Sweatt joined UAB in early 2006. The search for a permanent chair will begin this fall.

“Dr. Hablitz brings a wealth of experience to this interim role, based on his more than 25 years here at UAB,” said Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., senior vice president for Medicine and dean of the UAB School of Medicine.

Hablitz is a highly regarded scientist in the cellular neurophysiology of epilepsy and synaptic plasticity. His lab uses studies on synaptic transmissions to further understand basic biophysical properties of mammalian central neurons and to explore the pathophysiology of experimental epilepsy.

Hablitz came to UAB in 1989 as a professor of Physiology and Biophysics, and has been a professor and vice chair in the Department of Neurobiology since the department was founded in 1996. He holds additional secondary appointments in the Departments Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology and Psychology, as well as roles in the UAB Civitan International Research Center, General Clinical Research Center and the Center for Glial Biology in Medicine.

He earned his undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh in 1968 and his masters (1970) and doctorate (1972) degrees in psychology from the University of Houston before completing postdoctoral training in neurophysiology at the Baylor College of Medicine. He joined the faculty at Baylor in 1974, where he stayed until joining UAB in 1989.
Congratulations to Jacques and Linda Wadiche for receiving one of fifteen university-wide Graduate Dean’s Awards for Excellence in Mentoring.

The Graduate Dean’s Excellence
in Mentorship Award recognizes full-time regular UAB faculty members who have demonstrated exceptional commitment as mentors of graduate students and / or postdoctoral fellows.

Award Recipients

Susan Bellis, Cell, Developmental, and Integrative Biology
Elizabeth Brown, Pathology
Yabing Chen, Pathology
Deek Cunningham, Occupational Therapy
Jeffrey Engler, Associate Dean, Graduate School
Candace Floyd, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Stuart Frank, Medicine
Amit Gaggar, Medicine
William Geisler, Medicine
Eugenia Kharlampieva, Chemistry
Jacqueline Moss, Nursing
Lisa Schwiebert, Associate Dean, Postdoctoral Education
Jacques Wadiche, Neurobiology
Linda Overstreet Wadiche, Neurobiology
J. Michael Wyss, Cell, Developmental, and Integrative Biology


Recent work from the Pozzo-Miller lab on the structure and function of dendritic spines has been published in a freely available eBook from Frontiers in Neuroscience. It also includes a collection of research articles and reviews on this topic of high relevance to Neuroscience.

Academic Advising Award

Congratulations to Neurobiology Instructor Wei Li, PhD, and Research Associate Xin Xu, PhD (Pozzo-Miller lab), for being recently published in PNAS!

Excitatory synapses are stronger in the hippocampus of Rett syndrome mice due to altered synaptic trafficking of AMPA-type  glutamate receptors                        

    Rett syndrome is the most common intellectual disability in women after Down syndrome (1:10,000 incidence). Different mouse models of intellectual disability and autism exhibit deficits in synaptic plasticity, including impaired long-term potentiation (LTP) in mice lacking methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (MeCP2); however, the bases of this deficit remain unclear. Using a combination of electrophysiology, time-lapse imaging, cell biology, and biochemistry, we provide direct evidence that naïve hippocampal synapses in Rett mice have all the hallmarks of potentiated synapses. Rett synapses also fail to insert and remove AMPA receptors properly to activated synapses, which freezes them in a nonplastic state. Our findings provide molecular, cellular, and network mechanisms underlying enhanced excitatory synaptic transmission and impaired LTP in Rett mice, identifying previously unidentified molecular targets for therapeutic intervention.                           


Deficits in long-term potentiation (LTP) at central excitatory synapses are thought to contribute to cognitive impairments in neurodevelopmental disorders associated with intellectual disability and autism. Using the methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 (Mecp2) knockout (KO) mouse model of Rett syndrome, we show that naïve excitatory synapses onto hippocampal pyramidal neurons  of symptomatic mice have all of the hallmarks of potentiated synapses. Stronger Mecp2 KO synapses failed to undergo LTP after either theta-burst afferent stimulation or pairing afferent stimulation with postsynaptic  depolarization. On the other hand, basal synaptic strength and LTP were not affected in slices from younger presymptomatic Mecp2 KO mice. Furthermore, spine synapses in pyramidal neurons from symptomatic Mecp2 KO are larger and do not grow in size or incorporate GluA1 subunits after electrical or chemical LTP. Our data suggest that LTP is occluded in Mecp2 KO mice by already potentiated synapses. The higher surface levels of GluA1-containing receptors are consistent with altered expression levels of proteins involved in AMPA receptor trafficking, suggesting previously unidentified targets for therapeutic intervention for Rett syndrome and other MECP2-related disorders.                   

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