Melissa Asher

Entering Class - 2013

E-MAIL: asher024@umn.edu

Undergraduate Institution and Major:

Michigan State University, B.S. in Genomics and Molecular Genetics, 2012

Graduate Advisor:

PhD:

Stanley Thayer, PhD

Masters:

Marija Cvetanovic, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience

Dexcription of Graduate Research:

PhD Degree: Our lab studies the cellular mechanisms of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND), which affect up to half of HIV patients. I am investigating the role of microglia HAND in vitro, with an emphasis on modulating the endocannabinoid system to reduce harmful neuroinflammation.

Masters Degree: Our lab studied the roles of diverse cell types and non-cerebellar pathology in the neurodegenerative disease spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1). SCA1 is a dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disease which is best known for the cerebellar motor symptoms it causes, but which also includes cognitive deficits and mood disorders in many patients. My project focused on the role of Atxn1, the gene that is mutated in SCA1, and its effects on cognition and mood in mice. I found that loss and mutation of Atxn1 led to severe learning and memory deficits as well as mood abnormalities in these transgenic mice, and that only a small portion of these phenotypes could be accounted for by cerebellar pathology alone. In addition, I found that Atxn1 knockout mice had reduced hippocampal neurogenesis, which could provide an explanation for some of their learning and memory deficits.

    Graduate Publications.

    • Asher M, Johnson A, Zecevic B, Pease D, Cvetanovic M. Ataxin-1 regulates proliferation of hippocampal neural precursors. Neuroscience. 2016;322, 54-65.

    Graduate Abstracts:

    Oral Presentations:

    • A role for ataxin-1 in cognition and neurogenesis. University of Minnesota Graduate Program in Neuroscience colloquium series, Minneapolis, MN, 2016.

    Poster Presentations:

    • Asher M, Johnson A, Cvetanovic M. A role for ataxin-1 in hippocampal neurogenesis. 2016. Sixth Ataxia Investigators Meeting, Orlando, FL.

    Graduate Awards/Honors:

    • Sping and Ying Ngoh Lin Award 

    Thesis Committee Members:

    Research Areas:

    • Neurodegenerative Diseases and Neural Injury
    • Neurogenetics
    • Regenerative Medicine for Neural Systems

    Rotations:

    Graduate Program in Neuroscience Committees:

    • Career Facilitation Committee, 2017-2019

    Professional Outreach:

    • Presenter at a Social Science event at the Science Museum of Minnesota, Oct. 1, 2015
    • Brain Awareness Week Instructor, 2013-2016, 2018
    • State Fair Brain Booth Presenter, 2014

    Why did you choose University of Minnesota?

    I liked the strong sense of community among the students and also felt that there was a good selection of faculty with whom to rotate.

    Advice for Incoming Students:

    Choose an advisor you can work with even when things aren’t going well. It’s a lot easier to change parts of your project that you don’t like than to change the people you work with!

    Melissa Asher