Derek Sieburth

Associate Professor,
Cell & Neurobiology
Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute
Keck School of Medicine of USC
PIBBS Mentor

Research Topics

  • Signal transduction
  • Membranes & Transport
  • Cellular Neurobiology
  • Neurogenetics
  • Microbial/Invertebrate Genetics

Research Images

Research Overview

Intercellular signaling in the brain occurs at highly specialized subcellular structures called synapses. Synapses are surprisingly diverse in their structural and functional properties. For example, different synapses in the brain vary significantly in size, the number of neurotransmitter release sites, the pool of synaptic vesicles available for release and the probability of vesicle release. Beyond this diversity between synapses, the properties of each synapse are highly dynamic. This plasticity in synaptic properties is thought to underlie the specificity of neuronal wiring during development, and processes such as learning and memory. Synapses are biochemically complex structures composed of hundreds of different proteins. However, very little is known about the changes in molecular composition and signal transduction properties that underlie the diversity of synaptic function.

The Sieburth lab studies synaptic signaling pathways that regulate synaptic function, with the goal of understanding how these pathways contribute to the function of neuronal circuits controlling behavioral programs in the nervous system. My laboratory uses C. elegans as a model organism for studying synaptic biology, because of its simple neuronal circuitry, the ability to visualize synapses by fluorescent imaging in live animals, and its powerful genetics. We combine state of-the-art behavioral, genetic, cell biological, and in vivo neuronal imaging techniques in to study the cellular molecular mechanisms underlying secretion of synaptic vesicles and dense core vesicles. My lab is interested in three major areas: 1) How does localized sphingolipid signaling at presynaptic terminals regulate synaptic transmission at neuromuscular junctions, 2) The mechanisms by which oxidative stress regulates synaptic transmission and behavior, and 3) How does a neuropeptide signaling pathway deliver timing information from a pacemaker to activate a rhythmic behavioral circuit.