Brains, behavior—and burying marbles

Brains, behavior—and burying marbles

Dr. Ileana Soto-Reyes studies the development of Purkinje cells in the brain.

Dr. Ileana Soto-Reyes studies the development of Purkinje cells, intricate neurons in the brain that stretch out like trees with their branches extended. She wants to know, at the molecular level, how alterations in the growth of those neurons affect behavior.

Ileana Soto-Reyes, Ph.D.

Molecular biologist

Areas of expertise: Neuro-degeneration, mouse genetics, neuroinflammation

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The answers could lead to future research to find treatments for a range of common neurodevelopmental disorders, from autism to schizophrenia. 

“If you know the biology, if you know which molecules are involved, in the future you can design and implement interventions that can maybe prevent or fix the problems,” explained Soto-Reyes, associate professor of molecular and cellular biosciences in the College of Science & MathematicsIn 2020, she earned the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award, a significant achievement for early career faculty researchers. 

She’s particularly interested in the role of inflammation in neurodegenerative diseases such as Niemann Pick Type-C disease, a rare progressive genetic disorder that can lead to life-threatening complications and death. 

To learn how changes at the molecular level affect behavior, her team closely studies mice: how quickly mice bury marbles in their bedding, how long it takes them to jump from a platform, and how much time they spend exploring and digging in the bedding of a new cage. 

“This is used to measure repetitive behavior,” Soto-Reyes said. “When there’s an abnormality in the brain, they do it even more.” 

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