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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Student Q&A: Theanne Griffith, Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program

Theanne Griffith

Student Profile: Theanne Griffith
Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program 

Theanne Griffith, a fourth-year graduate student in the Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program (NUIN) studies the role of kainate receptors in neuronal function in the laboratory of Geoffrey Swanson, PhD, associate professor in Pharmacology. Last year she was awarded a two-year predoctoral fellowship by the American Heart Association.

Before beginning her doctoral training, Griffith spent two years doing research at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, where she investigated the neuroprotective effects of a St. John’s wort derivative in a model of Alzheimer’s disease. She received her undergraduate degree from Smith College in Massachusetts as a dual neuroscience and Spanish major.


What is your hometown?
I am from Alexandria, Virginia.

What are your research interests?
I’m currently in Geoffrey Swanson’s lab, and the primary focus is to investigate kainate receptors, which are a excitatory receptors in the brain. These receptors are important for maintaining the balance between excitation and inhibition in the brain. They are involved in different disease states such as epilepsy, pain, stroke, and migraines. 

A couple of years ago, these receptors were shown to associate with an auxiliary subunit consisting of two proteins, called Neto 1 and Neto 2. These subunits drastically altered the function of kainate receptors, so the goal of my research is to understand the structural basis of that interaction. We utilize several different approaches to address this research question, including patch-clamp electrophysiology, confocal microscopy, and
biochemical/molecular techniques.

Kainate receptors have been very difficult to target due to overlap in their pharmacological profiles with other excitatory receptors. The idea behind my project is to identify important amino acid residues and key sites not only in the Neto proteins but also in the Kainate receptors, so that chemists can design drugs to target those sites and modulate kainate receptor function in diseases in which they are involved.

How did you choose this research project?
Neuroscience fascinates me because there is so much to know and so many questions to ask. I’ve always been interested in structure-function relationships, so I am excited to work on this project where I can study one particular protein and one other protein and try to understand how they fit together.

What do you like to do outside of the lab?
Science outreach is definitely one of my big passions. In my first year, I was active in the Junior Science Club. I am involved in science outreach with the brain fair for Brain Awareness Week. Last year I went to five sessions to do mini-lectures and activities for students at an elementary school in the Uptown neighborhood. In my life, I had very easy access to science education, and no one ever deterred me, but that is not the case for everyone. I don’t think anyone should be excluded from being able to learn about science or miss the opportunity to learn whether they like it or not, especially in underprivileged socioeconomic communities.