Dr. Ruth Heidelberger
Dr. Ruth Heidelberger

Professors from several departments at McGovern Medical School shared research presentations with thousands of scientists in biophysics at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society (BPS) earlier this year.

Held at the end of February in San Francisco, faculty members like Dr. Ruth Heidelberger, professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy and the Frederic B. Asche Chair in Ophthalmology made the trek to the annual meeting, which offers more than 4,000 poster presentations, more than 20 symposia and over 200 exhibits. For this year’s meeting, Heidelberger organized and co-chaired the symposium titled “Synaptic Fusion and Retrieval,” and showcased new advances in the study of neurotransmitter release.

Her talk, titled “Syntaxin3 and the regulation of neurotransmitter release at retinal ribbon synapses,” presented a collaborative project between her laboratory and Dr. Roger Janz’s in which researchers found a novel pathway believed to act as a switch to modify the ability of a synapse to release neurotransmitters, an essential step in synaptic communication in normal brain function.

“Our data suggests that it does so by changing the phosphorylation state of one of the key proteins required for fast neurotransmitter release in response to activity,” Heidelberger said. “Our working hypothesis is that this modification expands the dynamic range of the synapse, allowing it to relay information over a wider range of stimuli.”

Heidelberger also completed a three-year term as an elected member of the BPS Council, the organization’s governing body. On March 23, the council selected Heidelberger as one of only six people to serve on the Nominating Committee, which prepares the list of new candidates for council and president-elect in 2019.

Dr. John Hancock, executive director of the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases and the John S. Dunn Distinguished University Chair in Physiology and Medicine, also spoke at a symposium titled “Biophysics of Lipid-modified GTPases.” Other faculty members held leadership roles at the meeting, including Dr. Vasanthi Jayaraman, professor and 2016 McGovern Scholar in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, who serves on the “Thematic Meetings” committee, and Dr. Alex Gorfe, associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology, who serves on the Committee for Inclusion and Diversity.

“I think the fact that many of us are members of this scientific society reflects the fact that we have vibrant scientists within our medical school who utilize sophisticated, cutting-edge approaches to perform discovery science at a quantitative, deeper level than was previously unattainable – even just a few years ago,” Heidelberger said. Additions like the new Nikon Center of Excellence, featuring two new super-resolution Nikon microscopes and upgraded confocal microscopes, will have major benefits to ongoing research.

The Biophysical Society was founded in 1958 to lead the development and dissemination of knowledge in biophysics. It does so through its many programs, including its meetings, publications, and committee outreach activities. The Society’s members, now over 9,000, work in academia, industry, and in government agencies throughout the world.