Kendra Liu

Olive B. and Franklin C. Mac Krell Jefferson Fellow
B.S. University of Arizona (2016)
M.Phil. Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (2019)
School of Medicine


Kendra’s dissertation, “Elucidating how novel phagocytes sculpt neural circuits during early nervous system development,” provides insights into the mechanisms behind phagocytosis-related disorders to guide new studies aimed at reversing neurological damage. During neural development, sculpting of cellular connections within the central and peripheral nervous systems (CNS and PNS, respectively) is necessary to generate a functional and adaptable organism. This sculpting involves the over-proliferation of brain cells and subsequent “pruning back” of their connections to allow for efficient, robust, and plastic neural circuits. For brain circuit assembly, this pruning is necessary to tune circuit output and enable organismal learning throughout life. Several immune cell types (called phagocytes) prune by physically consuming neuronal connections through a process calledphagocytosis. Cells also use phagocytosis to clean up extracellular debris and dying cells. Notably, aberrant phagocytosis is implicated in several devastating neurodevelopmental (e.g. Nasu-Hakola disease, Rett syndrome), neurodegenerative (e.g. Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis), and brain activity (e.g. epilepsy) disorders. Knowledge of the cellular mechanisms behind phagocytosis and the effects of phagocytes on the nervous system is crucial to understanding their aberrant behavior in disease, which can ultimately provide new avenues for effective therapeutics.

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