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Overview of our Research Program


June '22: (left to right): Jake Hines, Josh Giese, John Butrum, Bailey Otto, Madison Schaefer, and James Gronseth

We place a major emphasis on undergraduate training and professional development. As of 2021, the 27 alumni of the Neural Development Lab are shining in their professional arenas. These include:

  • MD / medical school: Allie Trudel, Maddy Martell, Erin Dankert (Eggum), Heather Nelson, Tom Eggers, Michelle Hansen, Katrina Pfaffenbach

  • DDS / dental school: Malory Owens

  • PA / physician assistant: Nick Becker, John Henke

  • BSN / nursing; nurse practitioner: Taylor Hobbs

  • DPT / physical therapy: Emily Menges

  • PharmD / pharmacy: Mandie Kaiser, Erik Derby

  • Government agency work: Bailey Duxbury

  • Clinical lab technologists: Taryn Mallon

  • Research lab technicians: Cassie Flachs, Katie Waller, Heather Nelson, Maddy Martell, A.J. Treichel

  • Graduate school (MS): Nazmus Sakib Khan, Scott Steele, James Gronseth, Bailey Duxbury, 

  • Graduate school (PhD): A.J. Treichel

  • Graduate school (Masters of Public Health): Heather Torkleson

  • Clinical Research Coordinator: Cassie Flachs

Our research focus on how central nervous system myelin develops and adapts to the environment. The major questions we are addressing are:

Development. How do oligodendrocytes target their myelin sheaths to only certain subsets of nerve axons, while leaving other axon types unmyelinated? Which genes are required for sheath targeting? 

Plasticity. Do experiences or changes to neural activity cause oligodendrocytes to shift myelin onto, away from, or between circuits? Which genes regulate the extent that individual axons are myelinated in an activity-dependent manner?

Evolution. When and how did the oligodendrocyte cell type, myelinating phenotype, and adaptive myelination program first evolve?

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Our primary research organism is the embryonic and larval zebrafish, due to its transparency and ease of genetic manipulation.



A singly-labeled pre-myelinating oligodendrocyte in the 3 dpf zebrafish spinal cord. Color represents z-depth. (Image credit: Katrina Pfaffenbach, J. Hines)

A singly-labeled pre-myelinating oligodendrocyte in the 3 dpf zebrafish spinal cord. Color changes represent movements during a 15-min time-lapse imaging movie. (Image credit: Katrina Pfaffenbach, J. Hines)

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A single myelinating oligodendrocyte in the zebrafish spinal cord. 

To learn more about our research, click below for projects or publications.

The Neural Development Lab is housed within the Department of Biology and College of Science & Engineering at Winona, State University. 

Recent News

July 2022   New preprint and video

This one goes into a different direction than our typical work on neural development.... Click here to view a new bioRxiv preprint describing 'Glowscopes'. This combines your smartphone with a few simple and inexpensive components, converting it into a basic fluorescence microscope. Video available here (YouTube) or here (Twitter). More information available on Glowscopes tab of this site (see above)

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Congrats to Madison Schaefer (pictured, leader of this project) along with Heather Nelson, John Butrum,  James Gronseth, and Erika Vail for their contributions to this project. 

May 2022   Congratulations Katrina Pfaffenbach

Katrina was admitted to the Medical School of Wisconsin and will start in Fall '22.  HUGE congrats! 


May 2022   Congratulations graduates!

We congratulate Kelsey Sobeck, Erik Derby, and Elijah Blonigen for completing their undergraduate degrees. Thank you for your contributions to our team and best of luck in your next chapters!

Nov 2021   New review paper

Click here to view the article, 'Origins and evolution of the oligodendrocyte cell type and adaptive myelination", published in Frontiers in Neuroscience. 

Nov 2021   Welcome Bailey Otto

We welcome new team member Bailey Otto. Bailey joins for a 1-yr NSF-funded post-baccalaureate training position.

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August 2021   Hormel Cancer Institute

The team traveled to Hormel Cancer Institute to present their end-of-summer findings and work in progress.

August 2021   Best wishes to Sakib Khan

Sakib has graduated from WSU and departs for graduate school at the University of Calgary focusing in cognitive neuroscience. We wish Sakib all the best in this next exciting chapter.

August 2021   Congratulations on big and exciting news from many lab alumni:

Congrats and best wishes to lab alum Heather Nelson as she starts medical school at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities.

Congrats and best wishes to lab alum John Henke as he starts the Physician Assistant graduate program at the University of Iowa.

Congrats and best wishes to lab alum Allie Trudel as she begins her medical residency at Saint Mary's Family Medicine in Grand Junction, CO

Congrats and best wishes to lab alum Taylor Hobbs as she begins an accelerated BSN program (1-year) in Alexandria, MN.

Congrats and best wishes to lab alum Bailey Duxbury as he begins work for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

July 2021   European Glia Meeting

Jake presents "Evolution of the oligodendrocyte cell type and adaptive myelination phenotype" in a session on origins and evolution of glia.

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June 2021   University of Minnesota visit

The team enjoyed a joint lab meeting with Mark Masino's lab to get feedback on summer projects, a trip to the science museum of Minnesota, and a nice dinner.

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June 2021   Welcome

Welcome to the team Emma Lamping (undergraduate researcher) and John Butrum (research analyst/technician)

May 2021   Best wishes!

Heather Nelson and Katie Waller both hang up the crocs for the last time. We wish Heather and Katie all the best in their future endeavors and thank them for their extensive contributions.


Katie graduated with a degree in Biology - Allied Health.

May 2021   Congrats to Katie Waller

Apr 2020   Congrats to Kelsey Sobeck!

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Kelsey received invitations to multiple summer undergraduate research programs and will participate in the SURE program offered through Hormel Cancer Intitute / Univ. MN in Austin, MN. 

Jan 2021   Welcome new undergraduate researchers

Sophomore Madison Schaefer and Junior Kelsey Sobeck join the team for the spring semester to start a new project. 

Dec 2020   New grants awarded!  

Congrats to Katie Waller and Sakib Khan. Both were awarded WSU student grants to support their supplies.

Sept 2020   New paper from the lab: 

"Individual neuronal subtypes control initial myelin sheath growth and stabilization" is now published and viewable at Neural Development. Congrats to Heather Nelson and all co-authors.

Sept 2020. Lab alum A.J. Treichel began his Ph.D. studies at Stowers Institute (see feature article here)

Aug 2020.   James Gronseth started graduate school and his graduate fellowship in the lab.

For archived lab news & events, click here.

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