Albert Herrera is a Professor of Biological Sciences in the
Neurobiology Section of the Department of Biological Sciences.
What kind of research
do you conduct?
I conduct research in two areas. First, I study synaptic plasticity, which refers to the ability of the connections between nerve cells to change, based mainly on how they are used. Plasticity is very important during embryonic development and, in adults, underlies learning, memory, and the ability of the nervous system to recover from disease or injury. I focus on neuromuscular junctions, the synapses between motor nerves and muscle fibers, because of their experimental accessibility and a wealth of background information. Currently, I am studying synapse elimination during embryonic development, activity-dependent competition between nerve cells, and the role of glial cells during development. I employ two types of techniques in concert: microelectrode and patch clamp neurophysiology, and histological and fluorescence microscopy.
My second line of research is a multidisciplinary, collaborative project with faculty members in mathematics and physical therapy. I am using neurophysiology to study the abnormal spinal reflexes that appear in rats that have been made paraplegic by transection of the spinal cord. Part of this work involves stimulation of nerves to paralyzed hind limb muscles and analysis of the resulting movements. Our collaborating mathematicians are constructing computer models of the paraplegic motor system, using the rat data to validate the models. Meanwhile, our physical therapist will analyze stimulus-evoked movements in the legs of normal human subjects so that the mathematicians can test the validity of the rat model when it is scaled to human dimensions. Our long-term goal is to develop a computer control system for muscle stimulators that would allow paraplegic patients to walk.
a typical semester, how many undergraduates do you work
Typically, I work with 2-4 undergraduates at a time, and I prefer long-term associations. During Spring 2002, I am collaborating with 7 undergraduate students in
my two areas of research.
What are some
of your recent undergraduate projects?
In vitro observations of synapse elimination at developing neuromuscular junctions of
Xenopus laevis pectoralis muscle. By Patrick Pezeshkian, Fall 2001
Repeated, in vivo observations of synapse growth and elimination in living tadpoles of
Xenopus laevis. By Liliana Loofbourow, Fall 2001
Development of multiple innervation of skeletal muscle in the frog
Xenopus laevis. By Victoria Abraira, Summer 2001
Neuromuscular junction remodeling in Xenopus laevis frogs due to focal blockade of postsynaptic receptors. By Jacob Chacko, Spring 1999
Polyneuronal innervation and synapse elimination in neuromuscular junctions of the cutaneous pectoris muscle of
Rana catesbeiana. By Devin Mitchell, Spring 1999
Differential acetylcholine-receptor turnover of singly and doubly blocked neuromuscular junctions in frog skeletal muscle fibers:
In vivo observation. By Joshua Sonnen, Spring 1998
out more about Dr. Herrera and his research, please visit