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Nicholas Vierra

Assistant Professor

Office/Building: ASB 426A
Vierra Lab:

Research Statement

The neuronal cell body (or soma) collects chemical and electrical signals from potentially tens of thousands of synapses distributed on the soma and along dendrites extending from the soma. These signals can powerfully influence gene expression and modify neuronal function. We study how the soma deciphers these electrical signals and transforms them into a form that the cell's internal signaling machinery understands. I have discovered that protein complexes organized at contact sites between endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and the plasma membrane (PM) help neurons convert information encoded in membrane depolarizations into chemical signals that the entire cell can understand. I have also identified specific molecules that help transmit signals at ER-PM contacts, some of which also play a dual structural role in organizing the ER-PM junction itself. Our goal is to understand how these proteins are organized at the soma's ER-PM contacts, how they work, and how they are controlled. We also want to understand how problems with signaling at these sites can lead to human diseases. To answer these questions, we use various methods, including live cell imaging and electrophysiology, the generation and use of novel antibodies, protein mass spectrometry, and fluorescence microscopy.

Research Interests

General Interests
Specific Interests
  • Ion channel physiology
  • ER-membrane contact sites

Selected Publications

  • Vierra, N. C. et al. Neuronal ER-plasma membrane junctions couple excitation to Ca(2+)-activated PKA signaling. Nat Commun 14, 5231 (2023).

    Vierra, N. C., O'Dwyer, S. C., Matsumoto, C., Santana, L. F. & Trimmer, J. S. Regulation of neuronal excitation-transcription coupling by Kv2.1-induced clustering of somatic L-type Ca(2+) channels at ER-PM junctions. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 118 (2021).

    Vierra, N. C., Kirmiz, M., van der List, D., Santana, L. F. & Trimmer, J. S. Kv2.1 mediates spatial and functional coupling of L-type calcium channels and ryanodine receptors in mammalian neurons. Elife 8 (2019).

    Kirmiz, M., Vierra, N. C., Palacio, S. & Trimmer, J. S. Identification of VAPA and VAPB as Kv2 channel-interacting proteins defining endoplasmic reticulum-plasma membrane junctions in mammalian brain neurons. J Neurosci 38, 7562-7584 (2018).