Catharine Clark


The concept of prosthetic limbs intertwined with the wiring of the central nervous system is no longer a fictional tale. In recent years, the study of this field has been propelled forward with the development of neurally controlled prosthetics. In this regard, microelectrodes implanted in strategic areas of the cortex allows for the bridging of the gap between cortical activity and the prosthetic limb. This neural interface technology has therefore provided a promising framework for treatment of patients who suffer from limb loss. However, studies have shown that chronically these microelectrodes become unreliable and that over time, begin to fail. This failure is most likely due to a plethora of highly dynamic cellular interactions within the brain. Therefore, understanding the causation behind this failure is critical if we are to overcome the limited lifetime of these microelectrodes. The goal of my study is to examine the dynamic interactions among the major cellular sub-types of the brain (for example, neurons, microglia and astrocytes) that may play a role in microelectrode failure. Specifically, we use two-photon excited fluorescence microscopy to image transgenic mice that express fluorescent proteins in these specific cell types. Utilizing this technique we are able to directly visualize the reactions of these cell types to microelectrode insertion. For example, we can detect and monitor the rapid activation, migration and proliferation of microglia (the major “first-aid” cells in the brain) to the insertion site and surrounding area of the electrode. In addition, we can access potential neuronal degeneration and death and determine the build up of reactive astrocytes. Furthermore, we can evaluate the extent of vascular injury caused by electrode insertion. A major advantage of this technique allows us to map a time course and observe how these constituents develop and change over time within the same mouse. Prior to joining the Schaffer lab, I received my PhD from the University of Missouri in Biomedical Sciences. Outside of the lab, my favorite activity includes spending time with my three big dogs – George, Kingston and Jake.

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