ASK THE RESEARCHER: Dr. Harbinder Singh-Dhillon

Harbinder Singh-Dhillon, PhD

Dr. Dhillon is a Molecular Neurobiologist and Professor at Delaware State University, who studies the biological basis of neural functions that follow complex genetics. He and his students have been using molecular-genetic, behavioral, and bio-imaging approaches on the eukaryotic lab model C. elegans to unravel synaptic modulation of dopamine. The Dhillon lab also studies developmental and epigenetic correlates of normal behavior and psychoses.

  1. What is the importance of this research?

Dysregulation of the neurotransmitter dopamine can cause several pathologies affecting the nervous system, including infantile parkinsonism-dystonia. The significance of dopamine, a.k.a. “the feel-good molecule,” is underscored by the fact that it critically influences a wide range of behaviors with conserved cellular roles across phylogeny. We are utilizing the simple yet well-defined nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans and exploiting the powerful genetics of the model, combined with our ability to image individual dopaminergic synaptic boutons in living animals.

2. Why did you want to conduct this research?

Our lab is interested in the fundamental underpinnings of behavior at the genetic and molecular levels, and how the disruption may lead to the diseased state. To that end, our project will help define physiological interactions between known modulators of dopamine by quantitative visualization at individual synapses puncta in intact, live animals. Studies at this level of detail are not currently feasible in mammalian model systems; however, considering the conserved phylogenetic relationship of biological pathways across species, our research will be a step forward in understanding the feel-good molecule. Additionally, results from our experiments help establish a platform that will allow in vivo testing of pharmacological agents that can potentially influence dopaminergic neurotransmission.

3. How does this research relate to your other work?

Our lab had previously uncovered feedback dynamics of the dopamine pre-synaptic dopamine receptor using quantitative FRAP visualization of synaptic vesicle fusion at individual synapses in intact, live animals. We also have defined the role of specific dopamine-related genes in modulating associative and non-associative learning behaviors in the C. elegans model.

4. What aspect of the DE-CTR was most helpful to you for this research?

It is to NIH as well as the DE-CTR ACCEL Program’s credit that they support research investigations that link basic and clinical research. This purview encouraged us to propose understanding molecular and pharmaceutical influences on dopamine transporter (DAT) while employing approaches that will bridge clinical research applicable to improving patient health through better understanding of the biological basis of the healthy and diseased states.

5. What advice would you give to a junior researcher?

Follow your scientific passion, be realistic, and do not get caught up in a “rat-race trap.”

If you would like to participate in an upcoming edition of ASK THE RESEARCHER, please email Amanda Scott.

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