Jeannine Frei, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
2015- present Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Program in Neuroscience, Hussman Institute for Autism, Baltimore, MD
2014 Ph.D. Developmental Neuroscience, University of Zurich, Switzerland
2010 M.Sc. Biology Neurosciences, University of Zurich, Switzerland
2008 B.Sc. Biology, University of Zurich, Switzerland
My research interest focuses on the function of synaptic cell adhesion molecules, especially molecules of the cadherin superfamily, in autism. As autism is a polygenic etiology, I am interested in deciphering whether different synaptic CAMs interact in a functional network, which downstream pathways they activate, and in which neural circuits they act together. Studying the function of synaptic CAMs could provide targets for therapeutic treatment of autistic conditions.
My research focused on the role of the synaptic cell adhesion molecules (SynCAMs) in neural circuit formation. These molecules have been extensively studied in the context of synapse formation and plasticity. However, their function in early events of nervous system development, such as axon guidance, largely remained unknown. In vitro binding studies showed that SynCAMs display a complex interaction pattern of homo- and heterophilic trans- and cis-interactions. The SynCAM interactions were required in vivo for selective axon-axon contacts in the dorsal root entry zone and for proper pathfinding of dorsal root ganglia sensory axons and their collaterals in the embryonic chicken spinal cord. The results of this study highlighted the importance of synaptic cell adhesion molecules in early processes of neural circuit formation. The fact that SynCAMs have been associated with autism spectrum condition suggests that not only deficits in synaptogenesis but also aberrant axon guidance possibly contribute to the pathogenesis of autism.
Frei JA, Andermatt I, Gesemann M, Stoeckli ET. The SynCAM synaptic cell adhesion molecules are involved in sensory axon pathfinding by regulating axon-axon contacts. J Cell Sci., 2014, 127:5288-302. PMID: 25335893.
Frei JA and Stoeckli ET. SynCAMs extend their functions beyond the synapse. Eur J Neurosci., 2014, 39:1752-60. PMID: 24628990.