Primary Research Focus
The Pilaz lab focuses on transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms that drive neuron and neural stem cell biology during embryonic brain development. These mechanisms are essential to ensure the generation and positioning of neurons, and their disruption can lead to numerous neurodevelopmental disorders.
The Pilaz lab’s research relies on a variety of tools such as genetics, molecular biology and histology. However, the expertise of the lab lies in microscopy and live imaging in tissue. Scientists in the Pilaz lab use microscopy and live imaging in tissue, to decipher the behavior of neural cells and their cellular components, at timescales varying from milliseconds to days. Deep qualitative and quantitative image analyses serve as the bases for new questions and research projects.
While the Pilaz lab is interested in many aspects of brain development, the lab currently focuses on RNA regulation in neural cells. The life of a messenger RNA starts in the nucleus where it is transcribed, it is then exported into the cytoplasm, where it can be actively transported over long distances to locally produce proteins. Current projects in the lab focus on all these steps and the genes of interest have been linked to intellectual disabilities, autism, microcephaly and macrocephaly.
About the Pilaz Lab
Lab Projects and News
Epigenetic mechanisms regulating neuron production during cortical development
A myriad of molecular pathways are known to control precursor cell proliferation. Specifically, cycling precursor cells utilize epigenetic mechanisms to fine-tune the expression of proliferation genes. While recent studies have indicated that epigenetic regulation by chromatin accessibility factors is critical in neural stem cells, the complete mechanism of such regulatory factors remains to be discovered. In this study, we investigate the molecular mechanism by which an unconventional disease-linked epigenetic regulator impacts neural stem cells proliferation, and thus the development of the cerebral cortex.
Role of RNA trafficking and local translation in neural stem cells
Using live imaging in embryonic brain tissue, we recently visualized RNA being trafficked in neural stem cells. In these cells, we made the surprising observation that RNA can be actively transported over long distances to locally produce proteins far from their nucleus and cell body. We used RNA-immunoprecipitation to discover 115 transported RNAs, but the role of this mechanism remains enigmatic. In this project, we focus on three autism-linked transported RNAs to understand the function of this mechanism, and how its disruption may lead to disease.
Meet the Pilaz Lab
Pratiksha KC, MS
Pratiksha KC joined the Pilaz Lab in 2020 to assist the team in research related to transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms that drive neuron and neural stem cell biology during embryonic brain development.
Pratiksha earned her master’s degree in molecular biology from South Dakota State University. She has three years of experience in molecular biology techniques, such as molecular cloning.
Claire is an MD-PhD student who joined the Pilaz lab in February 2021 to complete her dissertation. Prior to joining the lab, Claire obtained her BA in cellular neuroscience from Colgate University. At Colgate she studied the molecular mechanisms of dendritic arborization. Following graduation, Claire spent two years at the NIH studying neuronal signal transduction in the context of somatosensation and neural development. In the Pilaz lab, she studies how patient variants in MAP1B lead to periventricular nodular heterotopia (PVNH), a rare neurodevelopmental disease. She uses techniques such as in utero electroporation to study PVNH and prenatal brain development. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career as a physician scientist specializing in pediatrics and medical genetics.
Brandon joined the Pilaz lab in 2019 as Graduate Assistant while seeking his PhD through the Basic Biomedical Sciences program at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine. His work focuses on pediatric neurological disorders resulting from neurodevelopmental defects and neurodegenerative decline. His work expands our knowledge of how the brain develops and how the cells of the brain maintain themselves through the lifetime of the individual.
Krishna joined the Pilaz Lab after gaining skills working in industry and receiving a master's degree from the University of South Florida in Pharmaceutical Sciences.