Mirjana Maletić-Savatić, M.D., Ph.D.
Cynthia and Anthony G. Petrello Endowed Scholar, Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute,
Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine,
Dana Foundation Awardee and McKnight Scholar
A primary research interest of the Savatić lab is to understand the mechanisms that lead to formation of new neurons in the hippocampus, a key region for learning and memory. The Savatić lab studies transgenic mice in which neural stem/progenitor cells, neuroblasts, or microglia are labeled with fluorescent proteins so that the cells can be traced using a variety of primary culture and slice culture systems, confocal and multi-photon microscopy techniques. The main projects investigatie the activity-dependent regulation of neural progenitor cell proliferation, control of their cell cycle and fate determination, and the role of microglia in maintenance of the neurogenic homeostasis.
To translate this bench research to clinical applications, the Savatić lab has developed imaging tools to study neurogenesis in the live animal and human brain. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), a type of MRI imaging, and both cellular (bottom-up) and systems (top-down) metabolomic approaches, they have formulated novel algorithms to trace specific cell types and disease states in a variety of species, from flies to people.
Finally, in another major line of research, the lab is developing an integrative systems biology approach to study early developmental disorders such as autism. Dr. Maletic-Savatic hypothesizes that the interaction between certain genetic factors and the environment can perturb the metabolic status of brain tissue. Using noninvasive MRS, she is imaging the brains of neonates at high risk for developing neurological disorders as well as individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The lab is developing and refining new signal processing algorithms that will help discern metabolic pathways impaired in those subjects. The discovery of biomarkers for complex syndromes such as autism would not only improve diagnosis but would also prove valuable in evaluating treatment responses to novel therapies.