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Senior Investigator

Serena Dudek, Ph.D.


111 Alexander Drive
Research Triangle Park NC 27709-
Office: (919) 541-3275


dudek@niehs.nih.gov

Dr. Dudek received her B.S. in 1986 from the University of California at Irvine, where she began working on synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus with Gary Lynch. In 1992, she received her Ph.D. from Brown University where she worked with Mark Bear on long-term synaptic depression in the hippocampus. Following postdoctoral work with Michael Friedlander and Gail Johnson at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she joined the laboratory of Doug Fields at the NICHD. Dr. Dudek moved to NIEHS as an Investigator in 2001. Her laboratory studies the cellular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity in the adult and developing mammalian cortex.



During postnatal development, mammals, including humans, acquire vast amounts of information by interacting with their environments. In contrast to creatures having nervous systems that are fully pre-wired at birth, mammals benefit from an enormous flexibility in behavior due to the driving force of experience on their brain development. This flexibility comes at a potential cost, however, because interaction with noxious or otherwise abnormal environments can cause lasting and often deleterious changes in brain circuitry. Our working hypothesis is that environmental insults during development can result in impaired human cognition during adulthood. One way this might happen is through an increased susceptibility to diseases thought to have environmental components as risk factors (schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease, for example). The research done in the Synaptic and Developmental Plasticity Group focuses on determining how the connections in the brain (synapses) change in response to activity, how synaptic plasticity during early postnatal development is different from plasticity in the adult, and why some brain regions are more plastic than others. This research should bring us a better understanding of how environmental factors play a role in brain development so that we may begin to address the associated problems of brain disease caused by toxicant exposure.

We are working on three main projects in the lab:

  1. Synapse pruning in the cerebral cortex during development (how experience shapes brain circuitry)
  2. Molecular mechanisms for the lack of plasticity in hippocampal CA2, which incidentally, has a resistance to damage by stroke, epilepsy, and trauma. and
  3. Long-lasting changes in the strength of synapses, specifically how neuronal activity changes gene expression in neurons




GFP-labeled Hippocampal CA2

Hippocampal Neuron


Often ignored, hippocampal area CA2 has even been questioned regarding its status as a distinct region. Shown here is CA2 and CA3a labeled with Green Fluorescent Protein expressed under the control of the amigo2 promoter. Mouse line obtained through GENSAT (http://gensat.org/index.html).

Staff Image
  • Georgia Alexander, Ph.D.
    Staff Scientist
    (919) 316-4834

  • Logan Brown, B.S.
    Predoctoral IRTA Fellow
    (919) 541-0221

  • Kelly Carstens, B.S.
    Predoctoral IRTA Fellow
    (919) 316-4920

  • Shannon Farris, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral IRTA Fellow
    (919) 541-4304

  • Thomas Helton, Ph.D.
    Research Fellow
    (919) 541-0221

  • Daniel Lustberg, B.S.
    Post baccalaureate IRTA Fellow
    (919) 541-0221

  • Daniel Radzicki, Ph.D.
    Postdoctoral IRTA Fellow
    (919) 316-4819

  • Meilan Zhao, Ph.D.
    Biologist
    (919) 541-7680

  • 1) Dudek SM, Alexander GM, Farris S. (2016)
  • Rediscovering area CA2: unique properties and functions.
  • Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 17(2):89-102.
  • 2) Alexander GM, Farris S, Pirone JR, Zheng C, Colgin LL, Dudek SM. (2016)
  • Social and novel contexts modify hippocampal CA2 representations of space
  • Nature Communications , 7, 10300.
  • 3) Sciolino NR, Plummer NW, Chen YW, Alexander GM, Robertson SD, Dudek SM, McElligott ZA, Jensen P. (2016)
  • Recombinase-dependent mouse lines for chemogenetic activation of genetically defined cell types
  • Cell Reports , 15(11):2563-73.
  • 4) Carstens KE, Phillips ML, Pozzo-Miller L, Weinberg RJ, Dudek SM. (2016)
  • Perineuronal Nets Suppress Plasticity of Excitatory Synapses on CA2 Pyramidal Neurons.
  • J Neurosci. , 36(23):6312-20.
  • 5) Henson MA, Tucker CJ, Zhao M, Dudek SM. (2016)
  • Long-term depression-associated signaling is required for an in vitro model of NMDA receptor-dependent synapse pruning
  • Neurobiology of learning and memory, S1074-7427(16), 30282-30289.
  • 6) Pagani JH, Zhao M, Cui Z, Williams Avram SK, Caruana DA, Dudek SM, Young WS. (2015)
  • Role of the vasopressin 1b receptor in rodent aggressive behavior and synaptic plasticity in hippocampal area CA2
  • Molecular psychiatry, 20(4):490-499.
  • 7) Evans PR, Dudek SM, Hepler JR. (2015)
  • Regulator of G Protein Signaling 14: A Molecular Brake on Synaptic Plasticity Linked to Learning and Memory
  • Progress in molecular biology and translational science, 133:196-206.
  • 8) Saha, RN, Dudek, SM. (2013)
  • Splitting Hares and Tortoises: a classification of neuronal immediate early gene transcription based on poised RNA polymerase II
  • Neuroscience, 247:175-181.
  • 9) Caruana, D.A., Alexander, G.M. & Dudek, S.M. (2012)
  • New insights into the regulation of synaptic plasticity from an unexpected place: Hippocampal area CA2
  • Learning & Memory, 19, 391-400
  • 10) Saha, R.N., Wissink, E.M., Bailey, E., Zhao, M., Fargo, D., Hwang, J., Daigle, K.R., Fenn, J.D., Adelman, K. & Dudek, S.M. (2011)
  • Rapid activity-induced transcription of arc and other IEGs relies on poised RNA polymerase II
  • Nature neuroscience, 14(7):848-856.
  • 11) Vellano, C.P., Lee, S.E., Dudek, S.M. & Hepler, J.R. (2011)
  • RGS14 at the Interface of Hippocampal Signaling and Synaptic Plasticity
  • Trends in Pharmacological Sciences , 32(11):666-674.
  • 12) Simons, S.B., Caruana, D.A., Zhao, M. & Dudek, S.M. (2011)
  • Caffeine-induced synaptic potentiation in hippocampal CA2 neurons
  • Nature Neuroscience, 15, 23-25
  • 13) Lee SE, Simons SB, Heldt SA, Zhao M, Schroeder JP, Vellano CP, Cowan DP, Ramineni S, Yates CK, Feng Y, Smith Y, Sweatt JD, Weinshenker D, Ressler KJ, Dudek SM, Hepler JR (2010)
  • RGS14 is a natural suppressor of both synaptic plasticity in CA2 neurons and hippocampal-based learning and memory
  • Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 107, 16994-16998
  • 14) Adams, J.P., Robinson, R.A., Hudgins, E.D., Dudek, S.M. & Wissink, E.M. (2009)
  • NMDA receptor-independent control of transcription factors and gene expression
  • Neuroreport, 20(16):1429-1433.
  • 15) Simons, S.B., Escobedo, Y., Yasuda, R. & Dudek, S.M. (2009)
  • Regional differences in hippocampal calcium handling provide a cellular mechanism for limiting plasticity
  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(33):14080-14084.
  • 16) Saha, R. & Dudek, S.M. (2008)
  • Action potentials: to the nucleus and beyond
  • Experimental biology and medicine, 233(4):385-393.
  • 17) Bastrikova, N., Gardner, G.A., Reece, J.M., Jeromin, A. & Dudek, S.M. (2008)
  • Synapse elimination accompanies functional plasticity in hippocampal neurons
  • Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105(8):3123-3127.
  • 18) Lundquist, J.J. & Dudek, S.M. (2008)
  • Differential activation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1 and a related complex in neuronal nuclei
  • Brain Cell Biology, 35(4-6):267-281.
  • 19) Zhao, M. & Dudek, S.M. (2007)
  • Synaptic plasticity (and the lack thereof) in hippocampal CA2 neurons
  • The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 27(44):12025-12032.
  • 20) Adams, J.P., Robinson, R.A., and Dudek, S.M. (2007)
  • Role of action potentials in regulating gene transcription: relevance to LTP
  • in: Transcriptional Regulation by Neuronal Activity. S.M. Dudek, ed.
  • 21) Welch, J.W., Lu, J., Rodriguiz, R.M., Trotta, N.C., Peca, J., Ding, J.-D., Feliciano, C., Chen, M., Adams, J.P., Luo, J., Dudek, S.M., Weinberg, R.J., Calakos, N.,Wetsel, W.C., and Feng, G.P. (2007)
  • Cortico-striatal synaptic defects and OCD-like behavior in Sapap3-mutant mice.
  • Nature, 488, 894-900
  • 22) Zhao, M., Choi, Y.-S., Obrietan, K., and Dudek, S.M. (2007)
  • Synaptic plasticity (and the lack thereof) in hippocampal CA2 neurons.
  • J. Neurosci., 27, 12058-12066
  • 23) Adams, J.P. and Dudek, S.M. (2005)
  • Late-phase long-term potentiation: getting to the nucleus.
  • Nature Rev. Neurosci., 6, 737-743
  • 24) Zhao, M., Adams, J.P., and Dudek, S.M. (2005)
  • Pattern-Dependent Role of NMDA Receptors in Action Potential Generation: Consequences on Extracellular Signal-Regulated Kinase Activation
  • J. Neurosci. , 25, 7032-7039
  • 25) Dudek, SM and Fields, RD (2002)
  • Somatic action potentials are sufficient for late-phase LTP-related cell signaling.
  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 99(6), 3962-7
  • 26) Dudek, S.M. & Fields, R.D. (2001)
  • Mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase activation in somatodendritic compartments: roles of action potentials, frequency, and mode of calcium entry
  • Journal of Neuroscience, 21(2), RC122.
  • 27) Dudek, S.M. and Fields, R.D. (2001)
  • Gene expression in hippocampal long-term potentiation.
  • The Neuroscientist , 5, 275-279
  • 28) Dudek, S.M. and Fields, R.D. (2001)
  • MAP-Kinase/ERK phosphorylation in somato-dendritic compartments: roles of action potentials, frequency, and mode of calcium entry.
  • J. Neurosci , 21, RC122
  • 29) Perrett, S.P., Dudek, S.M., Egelman, D., Montague, P.R. and Freidlander, M.J. (2001)
  • LTDinduction in adult visual cortex: role of stimulus pattern and inhibition.
  • J. Neurosci. Res, 21, 2308-2319
  • 30) Dudek, S.M. and Friedlander, M.J. (1996)
  • Intracellular blockade of inhibitory synaptic responses in visual cortical layer IV neurons.
  • J. Neurophysiol, 75, 2167-2173,
  • 31) Friedlander, M.J., Harsanyi, K., Dudek, S., and Kara, P. (1996)
  • Developmental mechanisms for regulating signal amplification at excitatory synapses in the neocortex. in: Neural Development and Plasticity
  • Prog. in Brain Res. R. Mize and R. Erzurumlu, eds, 108
  • 32) Dudek, S.M. (1996)
  • A discussion of activity-dependent forms of synaptic weakening and their possible role in ocular dominance plasticity.
  • J. Physiol. (Paris) , 90, 167-170
  • 33) Dudek, SM and Friedlander, MJ (1996)
  • Developmental down-regulation of LTD in cortical layer IV and its independence of modulation by inhibition.
  • Neuron, 16(6), 1097-106
  • 34) Dudek, S.M. and Bear, M.F. (1993)
  • Bidirectional long-term modification of synapticeffectiveness in the adult and immature hippocampus.
  • J. Neurosci. , 13, 2910-2918
  • 35) Dudek, S.M. and Johnson, G.V.W. (1993)
  • Transglutaminase catalyzes the formation of sodium dodecyl sulfate insoluble, Alz-50 positive polymers of tau.
  • J. Neurochem., 61, 1159-1162
  • 36) Dudek, SM and Bear, MF (1992)
  • Homosynaptic long-term depression in area CA1 of hippocampus and effects of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor blockade.
  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 89(10), 4363-7
  • 37) Dudek, S.M. and Bear, M.F. (1989)
  • A biochemical correlate of the critical period for synaptic modification in visual cortex.
  • Science, 246, 673-675
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