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Serena Dudek, Ph.D., Senior Investigator

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.
Photo of Serena Dudek, Ph.D., Senior Investigator


Research Interests:
Hippocampal Neuron

Hippocampal CA2

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

Selected Recent Publications:
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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, 848-856.

  • 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.

  • Simons, S.B., Escobedo, Y., Yasuda, R., and Dudek, S.M. (2009) Regional differences in hippocampal calcium handling provide a cellular mechanism for limiting plasticity, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 106, 14080-14085. Full Text/Abstract

  • Bastrikova, N., Gardner, G., Reece, J., Jeromin, A., and Dudek, S.M. (2008) Synapse elimination accompanies functional plasticity in hippocampal neurons., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105, 3123-3127.

  • 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.

All Selected Publications

Contact Information:

Dr. Serena Dudek
Synaptic and Developmental Plasticity Unit
Laboratory of Neurobiology , NIEHS
111 Alexander Drive
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-

Telephone: (919) 541-3275 (office),


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