Agnieszka Z. Bałkowiec, M.D., Ph.D.

Agnieszka BalkowiecAssociate Professor

Joint Appointment: Physiology & Pharmacology, School of Medicine

Research Interests: Development and Plasticity of Neuronal Circuits

For normal function of the nervous system, it is essential that neurons become appropriately connected with each other. During development, neural circuitry is refined in part through changes in the number and strength of connections between individual neurons. A fundamental objective of neurobiology, and the long-range objective of our research, is to understand the role that neuronal activity plays in structural and functional changes in neuronal circuits. 

Our current research focuses on the role of the neurotrophin Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) in functional maturation and plasticity of neuronal circuits. We have developed several innovative tools to study activity-dependent regulation of BDNF and its effects on morphological and electrophysiological properties of neurons in two systems: 1) visceral sensory pathways that control cardio-respiratory homeostasis, and 2) trigeminal sensory pathways.

Cardiorespiratory homeostasis in general, and blood pressure in particular, are controlled by baro- and chemoreceptor reflexes. We study developing primary and second order neurons in the arterial baroreflex pathway to reveal mechanisms that govern normal development of the nervous system. In addition, these studies will provide insights into pathophysiology of developmental and other disorders of the cardiorespiratory system, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and hypertension. 

Trigeminal pathways transmit sensory information from craniofacial tissues, such as meninges, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), and teeth. Our studies are intended to elucidate cellular and molecular mechanisms relevant to understanding and treatment of several commonly occurring craniofacial pain conditions, such as migraine, trigeminal neuralgia, TMJ disorders, and odontalgias.

Research Support:

National Institutes of Health; American Heart Association; Medical Research Foundation of Oregon; American Association of Endodontists

Recent Publications

A.Vermehren-Schmaedick, R.A.Khanjian & A.Balkowiec (2015). Cellular mechanisms of activity-dependent BDNF expression in primary sensory neurons.  Neuroscience, 310: 665-673.

A.Vermehren-Schmaedick, T.Jacob, W.Krueger, D.Rammuno-Johnson, A.Balkowiec, K.A.Lidke & T.Vu (2014). Heterogeneous intracellular trafficking dynamics of brain-derived neurotrophic factor complexes in the neuronal soma revealed by single quantum dot tracking. PLoS ONE, 9 (4):e95113.

F.A.Elbarbry, A.Vermehren-Schmaedick & A.Balkowiec (2014). Modulation of Arachidonic Acid Metabolism in the Rat Kidney by Sulforaphane: Implications for Regulation of Blood Pressure. ISRN Pharmacology, 2014: 683508.

A.Vermehren-Schmaedick, V.K.Jenkins, H-Y.Hsieh, M.P.Page, V.L.Brooks & A.Balkowiec (2013). Upregulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor expression in nodose ganglia and the lower brainstem of hypertensive rats. Journal of Neuroscience Research 91: 220-229.

J.L.Martin, A.L.Brown & A.Balkowiec (2012). Glia determine the course of brain-derived neurotrophic factor-mediated dendritogenesis and provide a soluble inhibitory cue to dendritic growth in the brainstem. Neuroscience 207: 333-346.

A.Vermehren-Schmaedick, V.K.Jenkins, S.J.Knopp, A.Balkowiec & J.M.Bissonnette (2012). Intermittent hypoxia-induced expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor is disrupted in the brainstem of MeCP2-deficient mice. Neuroscience 206: 1-6.

E.Balkowiec-Iskra, A.Vermehren-Schmaedick & A.Balkowiec (2011). Tumor necrosis factor-alpha increases BDNF expression in trigeminal ganglion neurons in an activity-dependent manner. Neuroscience 180: 322-333.

L.Tarsa, E.Balkowiec-Iskra, F.J.Kratochvil III, V.K.Jenkins, A.McLean, A.Brown, J.A.Smith, J.C.Baumgartner & A.Balkowiec (2010). Tooth pulp inflammation increases BDNF expression in rodent trigeminal ganglion neurons.  Neuroscience 167: 1205-1215.

H-Y.Hsieh, C.L.Robertson, A.Vermehren-Schmaedick & A.Balkowiec (2010). Nitric oxide regulates BDNF release from nodose ganglion neurons in a pattern-dependent and cGMP-independent manner. Journal of Neuroscience Research 88:1285-1297.

A.Balkowiec & E.Balkowiec-Iskra (2010). "Novel Approaches to Studying Activity-Dependent Regulation of Neurotrophins and Neuropeptides in Sensory Pathways from Orofacial Tissues." In: A.Daskalaki (ed.) Informatics in Oral Medicine:Advanced Techniques inClinical and Diagnostic Technologies. IGI-Global.

J.J.Iliff, S.L.Fairbanks, A.Balkowiec & N.J.Alkayed (2010). Epoxyeicosatrienoic acids (EETs) are endogenous regulators of vasoactive neuropeptide release from trigeminal ganglion neurons. Journal of Neurochemistry 115: 1530-1542.

J.L.Martin, V.K.Jenkins, H-Y.Hsieh & A.Balkowiec (2009). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor in arterial baroreceptor pathways: Implications for activity-dependent plasticity at baroafferent synapses. Journal of Neurochemistry 108: 450-464.

L.Tarsa & A.Balkowiec (2009). Nerve growth factor regulates synaptophysin expression in developing trigeminal ganglion neurons in vitro. Neuropeptides 43: 47-52.

H.L.Scanlin, E.A.Carroll, V.K.Jenkins & A.Balkowiec (2008). Endomorphin-2 is released from newborn rat primary sensory neurons in a frequency- and calcium-dependent manner. European Journal of Neuroscience 27: 2629-2642.

I.Buldyrev, N.M.Tanner, H.Hsieh, E.G.Dodd, L.T.Nguyen & A.Balkowiec (2006). Calcitonin gene-related peptide enhances release of native brain-derived neurotrophic factor from trigeminal ganglion neurons. Journal of Neurochemistry 99: 1338-1350.