Schnell Lab

Image of cells

Research interests

Our current research focuses on how synapses are formed in the brain by adult born neurons, how these neurons contribute to neuronal circuit function, and how they contribute to recovery or the development of neurologic disease after neurologic injury. Newly generated neurons must be integrated into existing neuronal circuits to contribute to information processing, and alterations in this process could have profound clinical implications. Our current focus is on understanding how adult-born neurons might contribute to the pathogenesis of post-traumatic epilepsy, and we have developed techniques to analyze synaptic transmission at synapses formed by these adult-born cells and to evaluate the behavioral consequences of activity in these adult-born neurons.  Our scientific expertise lies in the study of neuronal structure and synaptic function, using electrophysiology, molecular biology, translational models and immunohistochemical/anatomical imaging techniques.

Ongoing projects

By combining optogenetics and transgenic labeling techniques, several projects in the lab examine hippocampal circuit plasticity and rewiring during the development of epilepsy. In one recent study, we found that adult-born neurons contribute to the formation of recurrent circuits, which might contribute to hippocampal hyperexcitability in epilepsy. Our hope is to not only describe how specific neuronal circuit elements are altered during epileptogenesis, but also to determine whether these changes contribute to, or help ameliorate, hippocampal hyperexcitability.

Although the brain has some capacity for regeneration after injury through the enhancement of adult neurogenesis, we have discovered that neurons born into an injured brain develop aberrantly and may contribute to circuit dysfunction. Ongoing studies suggest that anesthetic drugs might modulate this aberrant neurogenesis, and might have therapeutic benefits if administered early after injury. We are combining imaging, electrophysiology, and behavioral assays with translational models of brain injury to evaluate both mechanisms and potential treatments for post-traumatic neural circuit dysfunction.

The alpha-2 delta protein family plays a role in neuronal Ca++ channel function, synaptic transmission, and synaptogenesis. We are interested in how these various roles interact during neuronal development and, and are engaged in both in vivo and in vitro studies of the fascinating protein family

Funding

  • NINDS
  • Department of Veteran’s Affairs
  • Department of Defense

Our people

Dr. Eric Schnell

Eric Schnell, M.D., Ph.D.

Eric began his research career in Michael Hasselmo’s laboratory at Harvard, studing the cholinergic modulation of synaptic transmission. He then obtained his Ph.D. in Roger Nicoll’s lab at UCSF, and helped establish the role of PSD95 in synapse formation and AMPA receptor trafficking to synapses. He arrived at the Portland VA/OHSU in 2008, and began his faculty career with mentorship from Gary Westbrook at the Vollum Institute, studying the mechanisms underlying the maturation and synaptic integration of adult-born granule cells.  He has since established his own lab, but maintains a close collaboration with Gary on a number of ongoing projects. Outside of the lab, Eric is an avid bike commuter and loves spending time on the water, either liquid or frozen.

Dr. Corwin "Cory" Butler

Corwin Butler, Ph.D.

Cory is a postdoctoral scholar who joined the Schnell lab in 2018. He received his Ph.D. training at the University of Kentucky with Bret Smith, studying post-traumatic epilepsy.  He is currently interested in how hilar mossy cells contribute to hippocampal circuit function in both healthy and diseased brains. When away from the lab, Cory likes to spend his time playing soccer or volleyball.

Will Hendricks

Will Hendricks

Will is a neuroscience graduate student who joined the Schnell lab in 2015, from the great state of South Carolina. He studies the synapses formed by mossy fiber sprouting, a type of hippocampal circuit rearrangement that may contribute to the development of chronic epilepsy. Will primarily uses whole cell electrophysiology, immunohistochemsitry, and Cre-dependent transgenic mouse lines in his experiments. When not in the lab, he can usually be found somewhere on a mountain, either climbing to the top or snowboarding down.

Kathleen Beeson

Kathleen Beeson

Kathleen is a neuroscience graduate student who joined the Schnell lab in 2015 after years of traveling, STEM outreach, and working in a neuro-oncology lab. She is interested in how adult-born neurons integrate into their circuits and uses molecular and electrophysiologic techniques to study critical molecules for synapse formation during adult neurogenesis. Outside of synaptic plasticity, Kathleen loves learning about different cultures, backpacking, and gardening.

Austin Peters

Austin Peters

Austin worked in the Schnell Lab from 2016-2018 during his anesthesiology residency, and he has since been appointed to our faculty to continue his studies. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio before traveling to New York City for his undergraduate and medical school training, at Fordham University and NYU, respectively. Austin and his wife, Daphne, live in Portland and love Portland Dining Month, playing with cats, and aristo-camping.

Arielle Isakharov

Arielle Isakharov

Arielle moved to Portland from Seattle, where she earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Washington. After, before and during her undergraduate career, Arielle worked in Dr. Jihong Bai’s lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and in Dr. Michael Ailion’s lab at the University of Washington, where she looked at speciation mechanisms in C. elegans. At the Schnell Lab, Arielle focuses on a joint project with Dr. Ines Koerner’s lab exploring the role of microglia in neurogeneration. In her spare time, Arielle enjoys eating good sushi, exploring Portland with her husband, and spending time with family in Seattle.

Alexandria Wilson

Alexandria Wilson

Alexandria is a research assistant who joined the Schnell lab in 2018 after graduating with a B.S. in bioresource research and minor in computer science from Oregon State University. Her undergraduate research in Dr. Thomas Sharpton’s lab focused on locating novel microbes in the Zebrafish gut microbiome. In the summer of 2017 she completed an internship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research center in Dr. Jesse Bloom’s lab studying the evolution of the HIV Env and Influenza HA proteins. In the Schnell lab she studies adult-born neurons and the development of post-traumatic epilepsy. Outside of the lab, she loves to horseback ride, hike, or can be found crocheting at home.

  • Kunal Gupta, M.D., Ph.D., Resident Physician (Neurosurgery), 2015-2018
  • Alex Lasseter, Rotation Student
  • Laura Villasana, Ph.D., Post-Doc, 2012-2015
  • Kayla Lanker, Summer Research Intern, 2018
  • Ada Zhang, Summer Research Intern, 2017
  • Yang Chen, Summer Research Intern, 2016
  • Raluca McCallum, Summer Research Intern, 2013
  • Kristine Kim, Summer Research Intern, 2012
  • Thomas Long, Summer Research Intern, 2011
  • Neelay Pandit, Summer Research Intern, 2010
  • Emma Jeffries, Summer Research Intern, 2009
  • Peters, A. J., Villasana, L. E., and Schnell, E. (2018) Ketamine alters hippocampal cell proliferation and improves learning in mice after traumatic brain injury. Anesthesiology, 129, 278-295.
  • Hendricks, W. D., Chen, Y., Bensen, A.L., Westbrook, G. L., and Schnell, E. (2017)  Short-term Depression of Sprouted Mossy Fiber Synapses from Adult-born Granule Cells. Journal of Neuroscience, 37(23):5722-5735 and Cover Illustration.
  • Villasana, L. E., Kim, K. N., Westbrook, G. L., and Schnell, E. (2015) Functional integration of adult-born hippocampal neurons after traumatic brain injury. eNeuro, 2(5) e0056-15.
  • Villasana, L. E., Westbrook, G. L., and Schnell, E. (2014) Neurologic impairment following closed head injury predicts post-traumatic neurogenesis. Experimental Neurology, 261: 156-162.
  • Schnell, E., Long, T. H., Bensen, A. L., Washburn, E. K., and Westbrook, G. L. (2014) Neuroligin-1 knockdown reduces survival of adult-generated newborn hippocampal neurons. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 8(71): 1-7.
  • Schnell, E., Bensen, A. L., Washburn, E. K., and Westbrook, G. L.  (2012) Neuroligin-1 overexpression in newborn granule cells in vivo. PLoS One,  7(10): e48045.
  • Shipman, S. L., Schnell, E., Chen, B. S., Hirai, T., Roche, K. W. and Nicoll, R. A. (2011) Functional dependence of neuroligin on a new non-PDZ intracellular domain. Nature Neuroscience, 14(6): 718-26.
  • Luikart, B. W., Schnell, E., Washburn, E., Bensen, A. L., Tovar, K. R. and Westbrook, G. L.  (2011)  Pten knockdown in vivo increases excitatory drive onto dentate granule cells.  Journal of Neuroscience, 31(11): 4345-54.
  • Schnell, E., Sizemore, M., Karimzadegan, S., Chen, L., Bredt, D. S., and Nicoll, R. A. (2002)  Direct interactions between PSD-95 and stargazin control synaptic AMPA receptor number.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A., 99: 13902-13907.
  • El-Husseini, A. E., Schnell, E., Dakoji , S., Sweeney,   N., Zhou, Q., Prange, O., Gauthier-Campbell, C., Aguilera-Moreno, A., Nicoll, R. A., and Bredt, D. S. (2002)  Synaptic plasticity regulated by palmitate cycling on PSD-95.  Cell, 108: 849-863.
  • Schnell, E. and Nicoll, R. A. (2001)  Hippocampal synaptic transmission and plasticity are preserved in myosinVa mutant mice.  Journal of Neurophysiology, 85(4): 1498-1501.
  • El-Husseini, A. E.*, Schnell, E.*, Chetkovich, D. M., Nicoll, R. A., and Bredt, D. S. (2000)  PSD-95 involvement in maturation of excitatory synapses.  Science, 290(5495): 1364-1368.  
Dr. Eric Schnell (right) with Dr. Laura Villasana
Dr. Eric Schnell (right) with Dr. Laura Villasana in 2015 at the publication of "Functional Integration of Adult-Born Hippocampal Neurons after Traumatic Brain Injury," the School of Medicine's November 2015 featured research Paper of the Month.