One physiological function of the human brain is adapting the organism to its environment. In the brain, a primary effect of sensory exposures during postnatal development is on the strength of the synaptic contacts between neurons. Our main interest, therefore, has been to determine the molecular basis of long lasting synaptic plasticity. We focus on three aims in my laboratory: 1) how signals are rapidly transmitted to the nucleus to consolidate synaptic strengthening, 2) how synapses are weakened and eliminated during critical periods of postnatal development, and 3) how the process of synaptic plasticity is regulated in different brain regions. We use a diverse collection of molecular, biochemical, electrophysiological, and imaging techniques, primarily in brain slice preparations and neuron cultures from rodents. Recently, we have focused our efforts on a single region of the hippocampus, Hippocampal Area CA2, as neurons in this area express a number of genes distinct from the other CA regions that we found to regulate synaptic plasticity such as long-term depression (LTD) and long-term potentiation (LTP).
Dr. Dudek received her B.S. in Biology in 1986 from the University of California at Irvine, where she began working on synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus with Gary Lynch. In 1992, she earned her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Brown University, where she worked with Mark Bear on long-term synaptic depression in the hippocampus. Following postdoctoral work at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and at the NICHD, Dr. Dudek moved to NIEHS as an Investigator in 2001. Now a Senior Investigator, she directs laboratory studies on the cellular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity in the adult and developing mammalian cortex. She is the recipient of the 2009 A.E. Bennett Research Award from the Society of Biological Psychiatry.