Archan Ganguly, PhD, is an assistant professor of Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center. He received his undergraduate degree in Zoology from the University of Delhi and completed his PhD in Neuroscience at Ohio University. He went on to complete his postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Diego. He came to the Medical Center in late 2019, and his research aims to understand how proteins essential for synaptic communication between neurons are trafficked from the cell body of the neuron to the synapses where they function, and how this process may be altered, including by gene mutations in the context of neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Please tell us about your research.
Communication between neurons forms the basis for a whole host of functions we perform in our daily lives, including learning, memory, and social communication. Neurons communicate with each other through specialized structures called synapses. At these synapses, hundreds of proteins work synchronously to release packets of peptides (called neurotransmitters) which encode the information necessary for effective communication between neurons. Since the neurons are long and polarized, synapses are typically hundreds of microns away from the neuron’s cell body, to which they are connected by specialized tubes called axons. My research aims to define how proteins essential for synaptic communication are trafficked from the cell body of the neuron, where they are synthesized, along these long axons, all the way to the synapses where they function. I am primarily interested in examining the molecular mechanisms essential for the trafficking of these synaptic proteins and how trafficking changes when neurons communicate with each other, or when learn a new task or age. I am also very interested in establishing if this transport of synaptic proteins is altered in patients carrying mutations associated with neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders.
How did you become interested in your field?
During my years in middle school back in my hometown in India, I had the opportunity to volunteer for a school for kids with special needs. The question which haunted my mind after this experience was why and how is neuronal communication so drastically altered in these kids? This sparked my natural curiosity in understanding how the human brain works and pursuing a research track in neuroscience. While genome sequencing has identified genes linked to neurodevelopmental disorders and answered the ‘why’ part of the question, the biology underlying how these mutations effect wiring and communication between neurons remains poorly understood. This question of how synapses fail to form and function appropriately remains the driving motivation for my research.
What brought you to the University of Rochester?
I came to the University of Rochester when my wife was recruited to the Wilmot Cancer Institute. It was our first choice since it was the only place which gave me the liberty to work on publishing my post-doctoral work while also working on developing my own independent research ideas. Additionally, the diverse nature of neuroscience research here along with the very collaborative nature of the University was a strong draw. I already have collaborations underway with Dr. Christoph Proschel in the Department of Biomedical Genetics and Dr. Krishnan Padmanabhan in Neuroscience and look forward continuing to grow that list.
What is your favorite piece of advice?
A phrase from one of my favorite Dylan songs ‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’ sums up my favorite advice. It goes: “There is no success like failure and failure is no success at all”. The fun in science (according to me) is all about doing the hardest experiments and persevering through your failures and learning from every mistake you make.
This article originally appeared in NeURoscience Volume 20.