July 3, 2018: The Zylka Lab was awarded a grant from the Angelman Syndrome Foundation to expand their recent findings towards a gene therapy. Angelman Syndrome is a severe neurodevelopmental disorder that is caused by loss of the maternal copy of the Ube3a gene. Using the gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas9, a team of scientists in the Zylka lab was able to correct the underlying molecular deficiency in the Angelman mouse model. To reach more, click here.


April 1, 2018: Mark Zylka receives Center for Environmental Health and Susceptability Pilot Award

The project, “Does prenatal pesticide exposure exacerbate phenotypes in a mouse model of autism?”, submitted for the 2018-2019 CEHS Standard Pilot Projects Program, was approved for funding on April 1, 2018.

Research for this pilot award explores the role of both genetic and environmental components of a single autism-related pathway in an effort to show more pronounced morphological and behavioral phenotypes than testing either genetic or environmental risk factors alone.  This pilot grant will support development of assays to quantify pyrethroids in tissues and urine of mice and pilot exposure studies with a high confidence autism model mouse line.


Mark J. Zylka, PhD, is the W.R. Kenan Distinguished Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology and director of the UNC Neuroscience Center. As part of the Section on Biological Sciences, Zylka was elected an AAAS Fellow for his distinguished contributions to the field of neuroscience, particularly for the study of autism-related genes and risk factors using high-throughput approaches. You can read more about his career here and about some of his latest work on potential environmental causes of autism here.

Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. This year 396 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. This year’s AAAS Fellows will be formally announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science on November 24, 2017. New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate during the 2018 AAAS Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas on February 17.

 Mark Zylka, PhD

Mark Zylka, PhD


The study shows how a class of commonly used fungicides, designed to protect crops, can cause gene expression changes in mouse brain cells that look strikingly similar to changes in the brains of people with autism and Alzheimer’s disease.  The work, published in the journal Nature Communications, describes a new way to home in on chemicals that have the potential to affect brain functions.  Authors of the paper are Brandon Pearson, Jeremy Simon, Eric McCoy, Gabriela Salazar, Giulia Fragola, and Mark Zylka.  (See also this piece in The Guardian.)


 Jason Yi, Ph.D.

Jason Yi, Ph.D.

March 18, 2016:  Zylka lab postdoc wins SFARI Bridge to Independence Award

Congratulations to Jason Yi for receiving a Bridge to Independence Award from the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) for his proposal, “Inhibitory circuit dysfunction in autism spectrum disorder.”  These awards are activated upon starting a faculty position and are intended to invest in the next generation of top autism investigators by helping early-career scientists transition from mentored training positions to independent research careers.  The award results in a commitment of $450,000 over three years.


 Ben Philpot and Mark Zylka

Ben Philpot and Mark Zylka

January 14, 2016:  Zylka and Philpot to lead UNC Neuroscience Center

Mark Zylka, PhD, will serve as director and Ben Philpot, PhD, will serve as associate director of the UNC Neuroscience Center at the UNC School of Medicine, effective July 1. William Snider, MD, who has served as the center’s director for nearly 17 years, will step down from his leadership role, but will remain on faculty as professor of neurology, while also continuing his research.

 


August 6, 2015:  Zylka Lab Publishes in Cell on Genetic Mutation that Increases Autism Risk

In an article published in the journal Cell, Jason Yi and co-workers show how a genetic mutation disables a regulatory molecular switch, creating an enzyme that cannot be turned off and leading to abnormal brain development and autism.  A video describing this work was aired on WRAL.


July 9, 2015:  Mark Zylka Awarded RSRT Grant for Long Genes Screening

Mark Zylka and co-workers discovered that a class of drugs called topoisomerase inhibitors reduces the expression of long genes, raising the possibility that this class of drugs could be clinically relevant for Rett.  The Rett Syndrome Research Trust has awarded Mark Zylka $400,000 to screen for other compounds of topoisomerase inhibitors that can rebalance expression of long genes safely.


 Angela Mabb, Ph.D.

Angela Mabb, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral fellow Angela Mabb and co-workers in the Philpot lab and the Zylka lab have discovered a biochemical mechanism that could be the cause of the neurological side effects of chemotherapy, including memory loss, confusion, difficulty thinking, and trouble concentrating.  Their research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows how the drug topotecan can drastically suppress the expression of Topoisomerase-1, a gene that triggers the creation of proteins essential for normal brain functions.  The authors also suggest that if these enzymes are affected during brain development, the result could be long-term neurodevelopmental problems, such as those found in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.