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Bryan W. Luikart, Ph.D.

Bryan Luikart, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular and Systems Biology at The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Dr. Luikart received a BS in Molecular and Cell Biology from Texas A&M Universty (1999) and a PhD in Neuroscience from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (2004). Working under Dr. Luis Parada, Dr. Luikart first discovered that knockout of a gene that regulates growth factor signaling, Pten, profoundly increases the growth of dendrites and associated synapses in the mouse brain. Further, PTEN mutations are found in autism patients and this Pten knockout mouse was the first mouse model for autism that recapitulated both behavioral and morphological changes reminiscent of human autism. This discovery was named one of the top 10 biggest research events in 2007 by Autism Speaks and is the foundational discovery on which current clinical trials testing whether rapamycin can treat autism symptoms in patients. Dr. Luikart continued to study Pten during postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Gary Westbrook at the Vollum Institute of Oregon Health and Science University.

Here, Dr. Luikart developed techniques for viral-mediated molecular manipulation in vivo and learned electrophysiology to find that Pten knockdown increased the formation of functional excitatory synapses. Dr. Luikart joined the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in 2011. Since joining the faculty at Geisel, Dr. Luikart continues to study how Pten knockout impacts neuronal function and discovered that autism- associated mutations in Pten can result in the same pathological changes as seen in Pten knock-out neurons. Further, the Luikart laboratory has continued to develop more sophisticated tools for viral-mediated molecular manipulation with the goal of modeling other genetic changes found in autism to understand the neurobiological basis of autism.

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