Gareth Thomas, PhD
Associate Professor, Anatomy and Cell Biology
Associate Professor, Shriners Hospitals Pediatric Research Center
- Contact Information
- About Me
Our research focuses on the regulation of neuronal intracellular signaling pathways. Precise control of neuronal signaling is critical for normal nervous system function, while aberrant signaling is a hallmark of many neuropathological conditions. However, given their morphological complexity, control of intracellular signaling is a particular challenge in neurons. We are particularly interested in how neurons ensure that some intracellular signals remain tightly localized (e.g. to ensure synapse-specific regulation), while others are conveyed over long distances (e.g. from distal axons back to neuronal cell bodies during neurodevelopment or following axonal injury). We focus on neuronal roles for palmitoylation, a protein-lipid modification that targets proteins to specific membranes. Palmitoylation is known to be important for neuronal regulation, in particular by controlling the subcellular targeting of neurotransmitter receptors and the non-enzymatic ‘scaffold’ proteins to which they bind. However, we recently found that palmitoylation can also directly control the localization and even the activity of specific enzymes, and in particular regulates several protein kinases with key roles in neurodegeneration and regeneration. Our recently published work defined a new role for palmitoylation of the protein kinase LIMK1 in the regulation of dendritic spines, the sites of most excitatory synapses in the brain. In addition, our ongoing studies are revealing that palmitoylation can also play a completely novel role, by allowing a different group of kinases to ‘hitchhike’ on trafficking vesicles in neuronal axons and thus convey long distance signals following axonal injury. This work is providing new insights into neuronal signaling mechanisms and may reveal novel therapeutic targets to lessen the impact of nerve injury and other neuropathological conditions.
For more information, visit the lab webpage.
- Education, Training & Credentials
- PhD, University of Dundee, United Kingdom, 1998
- BA, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1994
- Society for Neuroscience