Dr. Katherine Roche is serving as the Interim Director for the Office of Research Training and Career Development (RTCD) in the Division of Intramural Research at NINDS, where she provides oversight for the institute’s training programs. The goal of RTCD is to enhance the training and mentoring experiences of all intramural scientists at NINDS while preparing trainees for their careers in science. She has experience in training and mentoring students and fellows in her own laboratory, as well as related leadership experience including serving as the director of the Brown-NIH Graduate Partnership Program, serving as a member of the PRAT program (NIGMS) Advisory Board, as well as previous service as Training Director of NINDS (2014-2017).
Dr. Roche also leads a vibrant research program. She is a Senior Investigator in the NINDS IRP. Over the last two decades, Dr. Roche has studied the molecular mechanisms that underlie synaptic plasticity at excitatory synapses. She has studied glutamate receptors and other postsynaptic proteins to better understand the mechanisms that dictate their expression at synapses. More recently, her research program has pivoted to use human genetics to guide her lab’s studies on the synaptic dysfunction underlying neurodevelopmental disorders. In particular, the Roche lab investigates rare variants in NMDA receptors (GRINs), the neuroligin family of adhesion molecules (NLGNs), and postsynaptic scaffolding proteins (MAGUKs; SHANKs; TRIO).
Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the mammalian central nervous system, and in addition to its central role in fast excitatory signaling it is also involved in synaptogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and the pathogenesis of certain neurologic diseases. Although glutamate acts as a neurotransmitter in all pathways of the central nervous system, the response to glutamate is not uniform at all glutamatergic synapses and varies with the type of glutamate receptor expressed on the postsynaptic membrane. In this context, we are interested in studying synapse-specific expression of postsynaptic NMDA and metabotropic glutamate receptors. My laboratory characterizes the molecular mechanisms underlying neurotransmitter receptor transport and localization at the synapse using several research strategies which include (1) defining sorting motifs present in neurotransmitter receptor cytosolic domains, (2) isolating neurotransmitter receptor-associated proteins, and (3) determining the role of protein-protein interactions in trafficking and specific synapse localization. Using these cell biological approaches, we hope to elucidate the mechanisms of neurotransmitter receptor trafficking in neurons and the role of accessory proteins at central synapses.