Email: don.vanmeyel [at] mcgill.ca
Tel.: 514-934-1934 ext. 42995
Professor | Neurology & Neurosurgery, Medicine (Dept. & Faculty)
Scientist | Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre
Associate Member | Dept. of Biology
We encourage applications from motivated post-docs and students who are interested in our research.
We study neurons and glial cells, two major cell types in the brain. Interactions between them are vital for the central nervous system (CNS) to develop and function properly. In addition, signaling between neurons requires formation of complex intercellular connections through the patterned development of axons and dendrites. Research themes in my lab currently focus on molecular and cellular mechanisms controlling 1) differentiation of glial cells during development, 2) dendrite morphogenesis, and 3) movement and bioavailability of ions and neuroactive chemical messengers in the brain. We study how these mechanisms influence motor and sensory behaviours and sleep-wake cycles. Improved understanding of these mechanisms can determine how perturbations of these processes contribute to certain neurological diseases, and can be used to promote repair in the injured or diseased CNS. To explore these issues, we primarily use the advanced genetics and molecular tools available for the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Drosophila has been well-studied and many functional, morphological and molecular features of neurons and glia are well conserved between mammals and insects.
For example, glutamate is an important neurotransmitter in humans as well as in fruit flies, and tight control of extracellular glutamate levels is crucial to avoid glutamate over-excitation, toxicity and neural cell death. Most extracellular glutamate is safely moved into glial cells by excitatory amino acid transporters (EAATs). Expression of EAATs is dysregulated in epilepsy, EAAT mutant mice exhibit spontaneous seizures, and humans with mutations in the EAAT known as SLC1A3/GLAST suffer seizures in addition to episodic ataxia and hemiplegic migraine. Despite this importance for CNS pathologies, the mechanisms of EAAT regulation and pathogenesis are poorly understood. Drosophila is an advanced genetic model with a single high-affinity glutamate transporter termed Eaat1, and we are using genetic approaches in fruit flies to explore the pathologic consequences of EAAT dysfunction, and to identify factors that regulate EAATs and influence over-excitement by glutamate in vivo.
In another example of our research, we study dendrites, the specialized tree-like structures that allow neurons to receive sensory and synaptic input within the nervous system. Diseases associated with mental retardation, including Down Syndrome, Rett Syndrome and Fragile-X Syndrome among others, are often associated with the disruption of the normal architecture of neuronal dendrites. This may result from altered dendrite development, and the goal of our research is to uncover novel cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie the tree-like patterns of growth, branching and targeting of dendrites. Dendrites in Drosophila are remarkably similar to dendrites in humans, displaying many of the same molecular and functional properties. In ongoing research, we are studying how factors that control the underlying molecular “skeleton” of dendrites and the delivery of other essential building materials affect specific aspects of the growth and branching of dendritic trees.