Dr. Kaufer's research interests include mammalian physiology, and cellular and molecular neuroscience.
Specifically, Dr. Kaufer focuses on the molecular basis of neural and hormonal mechanisms of stress responses, and therapies that may reduce stress-related damage.
Her lab is currently focusing on three main projects:
Hormonal Regulation of Neural Stem Cells
What are the environmental and internal cues that control the proliferation and fate choices of stem cells in the adult hippocamus? What role does gene expression have in the translation of those cues that affect the stem cell?
Using gene delivery methods, Dr. Kaufer is attempting to answer these questions by investigating the effects of stress and steroid hormones on hippocampal neuroprocessor cells.
RNA Regulatory Mechanisms in Neural Stress Responses
What is the role of RNA regulation, specifically, alternative splicing and microRNA expression in the brain's response to stress?
Dr. Kaufer’s hypothesis predicts that alternative splicing acts as a fine tuning mechanism, generating proteins that are more adept to function under the aberrant conditions.
The lab studies the gene network on the miRNA, splicing factors and target genes levels, and genetically manipulate the response to test its functional relevance for stress-affected learning and memory.
The Molecular Mechanisms of the Development of Epilepsy
The microenvironment of the central nervous system is normally isolated from elements circulating in the blood by the blood-brain-barrier (BBB). Common brain injuries are associated with the compromise of the BBB.
More recently, BBB compromise and the exposure of the brain to serum components were shown to induce epileptogenesis.
Dr. Kaufer's third research project aims to follow changes in gene expression in the cortex after BBB compromise during epileptogenesis. She hopes to correlate the changes with electrophysiological measures of pathology, delineating the mechanisms, and identifying potential therapies.
Dr. Kaufer: Q&A
Why did you decide to become a scientist?
I was always fascinated by science, and knew that this is what I want to do. After I obtained my PhD at the Hebrew university, I became concerned that I never considered any other options. I took some time off, and trained as a yoga teacher in the Sivananda tradition. But soon I found myself more interested in the scientific aspects of meditation effects on the brain, which made me realize that I really do belong in the science world. I moved to [California to be at] Stanford University, and joined Robert Sapolsky’s lab as a post-doctoral researcher.
What led you to the questions you are now investigating in your research?
As a graduate student I was studying cholinergic mechanisms in response to nerve gas agents in Dr. Hermona Soreq’s lab. During a collaboration project with Dr. Friedman, then at the medical corps in the Israeli defense force looking for underlying reasons for the mysterious gulf war syndrome, I stumbled upon a stress effect on gene regulation in our control group. I became fascinated with the possibility of applying molecular neuroscience tools to study psychological stress, and changed my dissertation topic. I have kept with that field ever since and find that it best integrates my different areas of interests.
How does your research affect your classroom and/or lab?
I try to cover in my research multiple levels and really go from the one molecule, or even part of it, through the cellular level, into the systems level. That approach drives interdisciplinarity and active collaborations with other labs around campus and elsewhere. I bring that both into my lab and into teaching, trying to expose students to all of those levels. I believe that collaborations are truly synergistic to all involved.
This semester I teach a course with Dr. Darlene Francis from the departments of psychology and public health where we talk about stress effects on all those levels. We have a very dynamic group of people in the room with interests ranging all the way from molecular biology to social epidemiology.
What do you enjoy most about your research?
The excitement of looking at new data, and the interactions with students and colleagues. I enjoy putting my research In the broader context of life - studying the deleterious effects stress has on our brain and body, forces me to make a conscious daily effort to eliminate stress in my own life and in my lab, or when not possible, to develop tools to cope with it effectively. I feel very fortunate being at the excellent diverse environment Cal offers, where our interactions with people from IB, MCB, chemical engineering, psychology and public health mutually stimulate and fertilize our research.
Neuro-precursor cells isolated from the adult rat hippocampus are capable of differentiating into neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes.
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November / December 2006