Erik Dent

Position title: Professor


Phone: (608) 262-4672

Erik Dent headshot



Ph.D. in Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Research Description:

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, actin filaments and associated proteins 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 two major areas of focus. One area of study is microtubule dynamics in neuronal dendrites. We discovered that microtubules in dendrites 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. A second area of study is to determine the function of F-BAR proteins in neuronal development. F-BAR proteins are a subfamily of membrane bending proteins that interact with the plasma membrane and actin filaments. We showed that the CIP4 family of F-BAR proteins is critical for early process formation in the developing nervous system. We are also developing new and exciting methodologies for studying nervous system function. Recently, we developed a method of labeling control and manipulated neurons in the same cortical slice, termed Double UP. This technique is very useful for studying neuronal migration and labeling populations of neurons in vivo or in organoids. We are also currently developing other methods to titrate expression of proteins in neurons.

Key Words:

Neuronal migration, axon outgrowth, dendritic spine, plasticity, cytoskeleton

Link to Lab Website

Link to Publications