2015 Stetten Lecture -- Form Meets Function: Structurally Diverse Cilia and Their Roles in Sensory Signaling

Masur Auditorium
Clinical Center (Building 10)
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, Maryland

Start Date: 10/21/2015 3:00 PM

End Date: 10/21/2015 4:00 PM

2015 Stetten Lecture poster - Form Meets Function: Structurally Diverse Cilia and Their Roles in Sensory Signalin

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Speaker: Piali Sengupta, Ph.D.
Department of Biology
Brandeis University

Biographical Sketch

Piali Sengupta has long been interested in understanding the complex interplay between an organism and its environment. Taking advantage of the well-defined nervous system of C. elegans, she has systematically identified many of the genes, neurons and molecular pathways that allow this model organism to sense chemical and thermal cues and translate them into specific changes in behavior and development.

More recently, Sengupta and her colleagues have begun to correlate the detailed structures of C. elegans sensory neurons with their specialized functions. In particular, part of her group has focused on primary cilia, which house signal transduction molecules and are essential for the neurons’ sensory properties.

Sengupta and her colleagues have shown that cilia structure and neuronal functions are interdependent and have identified genetic pathways required for generating and maintaining neuron-specific cilia morphologies. Disruption of cilia structure or function underlies a broad range of human genetic diseases known as ciliopathies, many of which are marked by sensory deficits. Because of the conservation of ciliogenesis mechanisms across many species, Sengupta’s work has provided insights into how altered cilia function contributes to disorders affecting these cell structures, such as Bardet-Biedl and Joubert syndromes.

Sengupta earned an A.B. in biology from Bryn Mawr College in 1985 and a Ph.D. in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991. She began studying sensory responses in C. elegans as a postdoctoral fellow with Cori Bargmann at the University of California, San Francisco.

Since 1996, Sengupta has been on the faculty of Brandeis University, where she is a professor in the department of biology and a member of the National Center for Behavioral Genomics and the Volen National Center for Complex Systems. She previously served as chair of the graduate program in molecular and cell biology at Brandeis.

Sengupta’s honors include a Sloan research fellowship, a Searle scholar award, a Packard Foundation fellowship and an NIH MERIT award. She serves on the editorial boards of Genetics, PLOS Biology and eNeuro and is a member of several fellowship and grant review panels.

NIGMS has supported Sengupta’s work since 1996 under grants R01GM081639, P01GM103770 and R37GM56223.