The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes neuroscientist Konark Mukherjee for his explorations of the signaling pathways that underlie brain development.
Mukherjee is an assistant professor with the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, an assistant professor of biological sciences in the College of Science, and an assistant professor of psychiatry with the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
He studies the role of Membrane Associated Guanylate Kinase (MAGUK) proteins in making connections and forming the neuronal network in the brain.
One of the final steps in neurodevelopment is the strengthening, weakening, or pruning of brain connections.
Mukherjee is interested in proteins that play a crucial role in various forms of synaptic plasticity, which generally refers to how the brain changes. Synapses are the connection sites between brain cells, and they can change shape and function in as quickly as a second, or over a lifetime.
Mutations in specific proteins, such as CASK and SAP102, are often linked with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as X-linked mental retardation. The goal of Mukherjee’s laboratory is to investigate role of MAGUKs like CASK in neurodevelopment.
For example, in some people, the optic nerve fails to develop fully, leading to a disorder called optic nerve hypoplasia — the cause of 15 percent of childhood blindness. Mukherjee and colleagues believe the CASK protein is involved and are working to develop a prevention or treatment, with support of the National Institutes of Health.
Mukerjee received his doctoral degree from the National Institute of Immunology, India, and has participated in postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, the Stanford University School of Medicine, and Brandeis University.