Graduate Studies Faculty

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Agnieszka Balkowiec, M.D.,Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Integrative Biosciences
Admin Unit: School of Dentistry (all departments)
Phone: 8-0190
Lab Phone: 8-0191
Fax: 4-8554
Office: School of Dentistry, Room # 827A
Mail Code: SDIB
Neuroscience Graduate Program
Research Interests:
neuroscience, neurophysiology, synaptic development, synaptic plasticity, sensory systems, baroreceptors, trigeminal, hippocampus, neurotrophins, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, opioids, Endomorphin-2, pain, migraine, SIDS, developmental » Click here for more about Dr. Balkowiec's research » PubMed Listing
Preceptor Rotations
Dr. Balkowiec has not indicated availability for preceptor rotations at this time.
Faculty Mentorship
Dr. Balkowiec has not indicated availability as a mentor at this time.

Summary of Current Research

We are interested in mechanisms of synaptic development and plasticity. Most of our current efforts are focused on two sensory systems: (1) the arterial baroreceptor pathway, which is critical for regulation of blood pressure and cardiovascular homeostasis, and (2) trigeminal sensory pathways that play a key role in transmission of pain information from craniofacial tissues, such as meninges, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and teeth.

One line of our current research focuses on the regulation of expression and release of various neuropeptides, including neurotrophins and opiates, by neuronal activity. We have developed novel ELISA protocols that provide a substantially increased level of sensitivity for detecting small quantities of endogenous neuropeptides synthesized and released by neurons. These innovative tools, combined with electrical field stimulation, calcium imaging, real-time PCR, immunocytochemistry, and pharmacological techniques, allow us to examine cellular mechanisms of regulation of endogenous neuropeptides by patterns of activity experienced by neurons in vivo.

Another line of our research addresses the role of neurotrophins, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), in functional maturation and plasticity of neuronal circuits. We study the effects of neurotrophins on expression and activity of transmitter receptors and ion channels, as well as morphology, of specifically identified neurons. For these studies, we use a combination of in vivo anterograde tracing, patch-clamp recording, immunohistochemical, and digital imaging techniques.

In collaboration with other OHSU labs, we also examine the effects of pathological states, such as hypertension (baroreceptor system) or tooth pulp inflammation (trigeminal system) on regulation of neurotrophins in sensory neurons in vivo.


Michael C. Andresen, Ph.D., OHSU Department of Physiology & Pharmacology; examining the consequences of in vivo BDNF knockdown in cardio-respiratory control pathways using adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors

J. Craig Baumgartner, D.D.S., Ph.D., OHSU Department of Endodontics; regulation of BDNF expression and release in trigeminal ganglion neurons following tooth pulp inflammation in rats and mice

John Bissonnette, M.D., OHSU Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology; regulation of BDNF mRNA and  protein expression in cardiorespiratory neurons of mecp2 mutants

 Virginia Brooks, Ph.D., OHSU Department of Physiology & Pharmacology; regulation of BDNF mRNA and protein expression in baroreceptor neurons during hypertension

NGP Students:

Ilya Buldyrev, PhD (research rotation): Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP)-mediated regulation of BDNF release from trigeminal ganglion neurons

Heather Scanlin (medical leave); Thesis: Activity-dependent release of Endomorphin-2 from primary sensory neurons and interactions with BDNF.  

Jessica Martin, PhD (graduated in 2010); Thesis: BDNF in developing aortic baroreceptors & its role in the dendritic morphogenesis of neurons from the nucleus tractus solitarius.