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Developmental Neurobiology Group

Genetic and Environmental Perturbations during Development

Patricia Jensen, Ph.D.
Patricia Jensen, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator
Tel (919) 541-0379
P.O. Box 12233
Mail Drop F1-11
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

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Research Summary

Patricia Jensen, Ph.D., leads the Developmental Neurobiology Group and holds a secondary appointment in the NIEHS Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory. Her group studies how genetic and environmental perturbations during development alter the fates and functions of specific sets of neurons and how these alterations lead to neurological disorders.

Altered noradrenergic signaling in the prefrontal cortex is implicated in a number of cognitive disorders including autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression and Alzheimer's disease. To date, much of the group's understanding about the subpopulation(s) of noradrenergic neurons that project to and modulate prefrontal cortical circuits comes from non-genetic tract tracing and lesioning studies. Little is known about the molecular identity of these subpopulations.

Unraveling the genetic pathways that control final noradrenergic subtype identity is critical to the group's understanding of related developmental and neurodegenerative diseases. To fill this knowledge gap, the Jensen lab uses genetic approaches in the mouse to determine the origins, fates, and functions of the different types of noradrenergic neurons in the mammalian brain. Importantly, this work will provide a means to visualize and genetically manipulate select populations of noradrenergic neurons in vivo and guide the rational generation of mouse models of cognitive disorders.

Major areas of research:

  • Mammalian brain development
  • Neuronal fate specification
  • Mouse models of neurodevelopmental disorders

Current projects:

  • Genetic fate-mapping of molecularly defined subdomains within the noradrenergic primordium
  • Molecular profiling of subsets of mouse noradrenergic neurons
  • Genetic ablation of noradrenergic neurons and analysis of prefrontal target areas

Jensen received her Ph.D. in anatomy and neurobiology at The University of Tennessee Health Science Center in 2002, working in the laboratory of Dan Goldowitz, Ph.D. As a doctoral student, she focused on the cellular and molecular interactions underlying cerebellar morphogenesis. During her postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Tom Curran, Ph.D., at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Jensen managed the high-throughput in situ hybridization screen as part of the GENSAT project. In 2005 she joined the laboratory of Susan Dymecki, M.D., Ph.D., at Harvard Medical School as a postdoctoral fellow where she carried out molecular and genetic studies focusing on the embryonic and molecular development of individual serotonergic (5-HT) neuron subtypes. Jensen was recruited to the NIEHS in 2009.