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Bruce D. Carter, Ph.D.

Professor, Biochemistry
Associate Director, Vanderbilt Brain Institute

Neurotrophin signaling, glia-mediated phagocytosis & Schwann cell biology

Name: Carter, Bruce D.
Title: Professor of Biochemistry
Department: Biochemistry
Office Address: 625 Light Hall
Phone Number: (615) 936-3041
Lab URL:

Research Keywords: neurotrophins, signaling proteins, apoptosis, transcription factor, receptor, nerve growth factor, NGF, cell death, myelin, neuron, schwann cell, glia
Research Specialty: Molecular mechanisms of neurotrophin signaling

Research Description:
I.   Molecular mechanisms of neurotrophin signaling.  Our lab studies the signaling mechanisms regulating neuronal survival. Programmed cell death in the nervous system is a naturally occurring process in mammalian development; however, abnormal apoptosis is the basis for many neuropathologies, e.g. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and ischemic injury. The delicate balance between neuronal survival and death is regulated, in part, by a family of growth factors referred to as the neurotrophins. The target tissues to which the neurons project produce members of this family of trophic factors. The neurotrophins promote neuronal survival and differentiation through binding to the Trks, a family of tyrosine kinase receptors, and induce apoptosis through a 75kD receptor, p75. While significant progress has been made in elucidating the mechanisms by which the Trks promote survival, much less is known about how p75 induces cell death. We recently discovered that pro-death ligands promote p75 cleavage by secretase, which releases a transcription factor, NRIF, to enter the nucleus. This process is required for the receptor’s apoptotic signal.This research will reveal the mechanisms underlying normal mammalian neural development and function. Moreover, understanding the regulation of neural cell survival is essential for developing therapeutic strategies for neuropathologies involving apoptosis, which include many diseases and nerve lesions.

II.   Molecular mechanisms of myelin formation.  The other area of research in the lab is to elucidate the mechanism by which myelin forms. Myelin is a multilamellar structure that ensheaths axons and allows for the rapid conduction of electrical signals, acts as a protective barrier for axons, regulates regeneration and provides trophic support for neurons. This structure is produced by Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system and oligodendrocytes in the CNS. The formation of peripheral myelin during development is initiated by yet to be identified signals from the axon with which the Schwann cells are associated. The overall objective of this project is to elucidate the mechanisms regulating the formation of this essential neural structure. We found that activation of the transcription factor NF-B in Schwann cells is essential for their differentiation into a myelinating phenotype and are currently investigating the up stream activator of NF-B and what the downstream targets are.The formation of myelin is critical for the normal function of the mammalian nervous system. Disruptions in myelination during development lead to a variety of muscular dystrophies, in particular Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, and degeneration of myelin in adults can lead to disabling pathologies such as Multiple Sclerosis and Guillian Barre Syndrome. In addition, myelin is a key regulator of nerve regeneration, preventing it in the CNS and promoting it in the periphery. Therefore, understanding how this specialized structure forms may reveal mechanisms underlying the etiology of a number pathologies as well as potential points for therapeutic intervention.

Postdoctoral Position Availability and Details: Please apply by e-mail to sending CV and names of three references.

PubMed Listing of Dr. Carter’s Publications