Prof Rhona Mirsky
Emeritus Professor of Developmental Neurobiology
Div of Biosciences
Faculty of Life Sciences
- Joined UCL
- 1st Oct 1975
We are interested in Schwann cells, the glial cells of peripheral nerves. These cells provide signals that during development are required for neuronal survival, and which are essential for the integrity of peripheral nerves in the adult. They also make myelin sheaths around axons that are needed for the normal conduction of nerve impulsesa dn provide vital support for small axons in unmyelinated nerve fibres. Importantly, in damaged nerves, Schwann cells guide regrowing axons back towards their targets and make nerve repair possible.
The striking PNS response to injury rests on the plasticity of adult Schwann cells and their ability to transit between differentiation states. The injury response represents a natural reprogramming of differentiated cells to generate a distinct Schwann cell state specialized to promote axon growth and nerve regeneration. This response is dependent on the expression of the transcription factor c-Jun in Schwann cells. But the Schwann cell response is also a major problem in the common inherited and acquired peripheral neuropathies during which dedifferentiation and demyelination occur. It is possible that common mechanisms exist between the Schwann cell response to direct nerve injury and the inujry response observed in neuropathies.
The work of the laboratory addresses a group of interlocking issues in Schwann cell biology.
(i) The response of Schwann cells to injury and genetic disease, including
the process of demyelination and control of axon regrowth and nerve
(ii) Control of myelination,
(iii) Early Schwann cell development and the biology of the Schwann cell precursor and how this relates to the repair phenotype generated after injury.
To learn about these events, we study molecular signalling between neurons and glia, examine how transcription factors control differentiation and repair programmes and analyse intracellular signalling cascades that regulate survival, proliferation, myelination, demyelination and aoxonal regeneration. We use cells from rats, and normal and transgenic and knockout mice, and a variety of molecular, biochemical, cell biological and cell culture techniques.
I supervise the work of PhD, MSc and BSc students in thier thesis work and laboratory projects.
BiographyI obtained a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Cambridge. After a
postdoctoral period in the USA, I was a member of the MRC
Neuroimmunology Project led by Martin Raff from 1975-81, and moved to
the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, UCL in 1981 as a
lecturer. I was Professor of Developmental Neurobiology in the same
department (now Research Department of Cell and Developmental Biology)
from 1990-2004, and Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Associate
since then. I am a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences.