Sarah D. Ackerman, PhD

Assistant Professor of Pathology and Immunology

Washington University in St. Louis (WU)

The human brain is made of billions of neurons which form intricate circuits to allow us to think, feel, and move. Neural circuits are capable of activity-dependent changes in structure/function, called neural plasticity. Plasticity is largely restricted to early developmental windows called critical periods, whereas adult circuits are stable. Altered critical period timing is linked to neurological disorders including autism, epilepsy, and schizophrenia, yet the mechanisms that regulate critical period timing are poorly understood. Recent work from our lab has determined that neural plasticity in development is restricted by a specialized cell type in the brain, called astrocytes. In our lab, we ask (1) can we safely reopen plasticity in the mature brain, (2) how do changes in developmental plasticity instruct long-term neuronal health and, (3) how is plasticity coordinated across different brain regions? Ultimately, our goal is to leverage astrocytes as therapeutic targets to combat neurological and psychiatric disease.