My project comes out of the work of my mentor Katie Baldwin. Katie used data collected from the Barres lab at Stanford to compile a list of genes that were highly expressed in astrocytes relative to other cells in the brain. She then took this list and looked into the identity of each gene to see what was known about it and if it could be interacting with synapses (the focus of the lab being astrocytes’ influence upon synapses). She then looked at the effect of knocking out some of these genes on astrocytes to see if there were any clear differences in the shape of the cells. Once she had made this list of research subjects, Katie, as well as some other members of the lab, began to investigate what these genes are doing in astrocytes.
When I came to the lab, Katie told me about a few genes from this list that hadn’t been investigated yet and would be good projects for me to work on. One such gene she was particularly interested in was PTPRZ1. PTPRZ1 is a membrane-bound receptor that removes phosphate modifications from proteins. This sort of process can be important for controlling existing proteins, so I was very intrigued by this research target. Katie had also already seen that losing this gene caused astrocytes to look strange.
This summer I have been working on trying to figure out where this protein is expressed and developing techniques to be able to see it both in cells and in dead tissues. I hope to have good protocols for microscopy and western blotting to learn more about this protein’s function. I also plan to return to the lab when the semester starts to further our understanding of PTPRZ1 role in astrocytes.