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Alexander van der Linden, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Alexander van der Linden

Contact Information

Degrees

  • Ph.D., Biology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands, 2003
  • M.S., Molecular Biology, Leiden University, The Netherlands, 1999

Professional Biography

  • Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, 2009 - present
  • Postdoc (Lab of Prof. Piali Sengupta), Brandeis University, Waltham, 2003 - 2009
  • Ph.D. student (Lab of Prof. Ronald Plasterk), Hubrecht Institute, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 1999 – 2003

Research Interests

A major challenge in neuroscience is to understand how animals modify their behavior, physiology and development in response to an ever-changing environment. What are the genes, signaling pathways, and neuronal circuits by which animals alter their responses to internal and external environmental signals such as temperature and food. Our research uses a simple, experimentally tractable model system, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, to study these questions using a wide variety of molecular genetic, behavioral and genomic tools. Current research projects in the lab are focused on three main biological questions that have significant biomedical importance:

  1. How do animals alter their olfactory behavior when starved? Dynamic changes in the expression level of olfactory receptor genes is hypothesized to rapidly alter an animals’ response to chemical cues. For example, mosquitoes decrease the expression of olfactory receptors that recognize human host odors after feeding, diminishing host attractiveness and potentially influencing host-leaving behavior. In certain nematodes, development into a parasitic lifestyle may also be marked by distinct changes in olfactory responses to host odors. Understanding dynamic changes in the expression levels of olfactory receptor genes in the free-living nematode C. elegans could potentially gain insight into how parasitic nematodes and disease-carrying insects seek out and leave their host based on their nutritional status.
  2. How does temperature control the circadian clock? Most organisms show circadian rhythms (cycles of behavior or gene expression) that repeat roughly every 24 hours. These rhythms are outputs of an internal clock synchronized by daily environmental cycles of light or temperature, and control many aspects of behavior and physiology such as sleep and metabolism. Much is known about light cycles, but it is still poorly understood how temperature is sensed and transduced by the circadian clock(s). C. elegans is an excellent system to study temperature control of the clock; it has a relatively small circuit that senses temperature, it has many molecular components implicated in thermosensation and most importantly, locomotor activity (a commonly measured circadian behavioral output) is entrained by daily temperature cycles. Using in the lab newly developed tools, we are investigating the mechanisms underlying the temperature-entrained circadian clock of C. elegans.
  3. How does the brain control growth and fat metabolism? The sensory nervous system couples sensory to metabolic pathways to regulate fat and growth in remote peripheral tissues. Our work suggests that SIK (salt-inducible kinase)-mediated control of class II HDACs (histone deacetylase), a pathway highly conserved between C. elegans and mammals, plays a critical role in fat metabolism, growth and feeding responses. The study of this conserved biological pathway in C. elegans will provide valuable information on the molecular and neural basis of fat storage and body growth, and has the potential to inform our knowledge of obesity and its associated diseases.

Class Materials

  • BIOL 190: Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology
  • BIOL 395: Laboratory in Genetics and Cell Biology
  • BIOL 475 and 675: Neurobiology
  • BIOL 477 and 677: Genes, Brain & Behavior
  • BIOL 479: Techniques in Neuroscience Laboratory (team-taught)

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