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Yixiao (Peter) Zou


In the summers of 2007 and 2008, I worked in Dr. Tom Reese's laboratory and learned to apply computational biology approaches to study the movement of calcium-calmodulin dependent protein kinase II, or CaMKII, in neuronal dendrites and dendritic spines. In the first summer, I constructed the geometrical boundaries of a dendritic spine in simulation software SMOLDYN, wrote data analysis scripts in MATLAB, and qualitatively validated simulated diffusion by reproducing two published observations of protein diffusion in biological dendrites and dendritic spines. In my second summer, I quantitatively demonstrated that while neglecting the effects of macromolecules and organelles in neuronal cytoplasm, the error margin of my diffusion model was well within a factor of 2 from biological measurements. Explicit modeling of macromolecules and organelles further improved modeling accuracy.

In the short term, a model of protein diffusion in dendrites and dendritic spines can help assess the roles of macromolecules and organelles in diffusion-mediated protein trafficking near the post-synaptic terminal. In the long term, specific protein-protein interactions can be incorporated into the basic diffusion model, therefore making the model a useful tool in elucidating the many mechanisms involved in recruiting CaMKII near selected post-synaptic terminals, where the protein plays critical roles in synaptic potentiation and behavioral memory.

My summers at the NIH are instrumental in my ongoing development as a researcher. I picked up many pearls on how to function as a productive member of a lab from my mentors Dr. Shahid Khan and Dr. Ayse Dosemeci. I also enjoyed the amazingly collegial air around me, where accomplished scientists are often more than willing to exchange ideas with a novice in the field.

Last updated December 20, 2013