Principal Investigator

Marco Terenzio

Marco Terenzio carried out his PhD in the laboratory of Prof. Giampietro Schiavo at Cancer Research UK in London, with the aim of identifying regulators of neurotrophin receptors endosomal distribution in motor neurons. After a brief first postdoc at the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, Germany, where he studied the mechanisms of mitochondrial clearance, he joined the laboratory of Prof. Mike Fainzilber at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, where he investigated the mechanisms underlying cell length sensing in neurons and the axonal translational response to sciatic nerve injury.

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Group Leader

Laurent Guillaud

Laurent got his PhD in Cell Biology in the Laboratoire du Cytosquelette INSERM/CEA in France, where he worked on the organization and stabilization of the neuronal microtubule cytoskeleton. In 1999, he moved to the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy of the Graduate School of Medicine at the University of Tokyo, where he studied intracellular transport and molecular motors. In 2009, he joined the Cellular and Molecular Synaptic Function Unit at OIST, where he worked on vesicles trafficking and synaptic organization and function. In 2020, he joined the Molecular Neuroscience Unit, to work on the mechanisms of local mRNA translation and protein synthesis in axon, as well as on the mechanisms of liquid phase separation in neurons, and their roles in neuronal homeostasis and neurodegeneration. He specializes on high-resolution imaging approaches to study the cell biology of neurons.

Postdoctoral Scholars

Lokesh Agrawal

How the brain works has always fascinated me right from my school days. Therefore, to understand the information processing in the brain and to unravel the mysteries of brain, I choose cognitive neuroscience as my graduate study. I earned my master’s on a project for the development of artificial brain simulator to imitate the mechanism of brain functioning from the Center for Converging Technologies, University of Rajasthan in India; in the collaboration with National Institute for Material Sciences, Japan. Recently, I finished my doctoral research aiming the investigation of the effect of serotonin 4 receptor on the brain development at University of Tsukuba, Japan. In my doctoral research, I worked on various collaborative projects ranging from mathematical modeling of physiological homeostasis, protein modeling/drug docking/peptide designing, synthesis of biodegradable and biocompatible gelatin made microneedles for the transdermal delivery of vaccines and fabrication of nanofibrous scaffold for neural tissue engineering in collaboration with Chung Yuan Christian University, Taiwan; Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, India; and Southwest University; China.  My growing interest in the molecular correlates of axonal regeneration led me to investigate the regenerative aspects of serotonin doped nanofibrous scaffolds in the peripheral nerve injuries. Currently, I am working as post-doctoral fellow in the molecular neuroscience unit led by Prof. Marco Terenzio at Okinawa Institute of Science and Technologies, Japan; continuing my work to explore the possibilities of serotonin based regenerative medicines amalgamating the principals of tissue engineering.

Madeleine Le Coz

Cellular and Molecular Biology has always aroused a never-ending curiosity in me. The way that specific events happening locally in cells translates to physiological or physio-pathological responses in an organism is fascinating. During my Ph.D project and the following postdoctorate, I had the opportunity to work on stem cell biology with melanocyte cell models, from molecules to living organisms. Said experience allowed me to appreciate the need to make use of both in vitro and in vivo models to research and validate molecular and cellular mechanisms. 

My growing interest for stem cell maintenance and renewal, as well as cellular and tissue regeneration linked to injury and to aging related diseases, led me to look at the molecular neuroscience field. Indeed, in the field of Neuroscience, there is a strong emphasis on several pathologies that are not sufficiently understood. Therefore, my long-term scientific goal is to investigate new therapeutic approaches for age-related and for cellular regeneration pathways and targets, to allow for more personalized treatments in the clinics.

Sandra De la Fuente Ruiz

I graduated in Biomedical sciences at the University of Lleida in 2010. During this time, I already was interested in neuroscience and I focused on this field both in my internship periods and in the development of my final degree project. After completing a master's degree in biomedical research, I did my doctoral thesis at the same university. From the very first moment I was fascinated by how neurons work and communicate in our nervous system. For that reason, during my PhD I focused on the study of the motoneuron pathology that occurs in Spinal Muscular Atrophy. My main objective was to contribute to the knowledge on the motoneurons functioning and the development of possible therapeutic strategies using mouse primary cell culture as well as in vivo model and mouse stem cell cultures and human induced pluripotent stem cells cultures. My interest in neuroscience and fascination with neurodegenerative diseases has only increased over the years. My current work focuses on the use of human induced pluripotent stem cells cultures to study Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a rapidly progressive neurodegenerative disease, which also affects motoneurons and which currently has no cure.

Ph.D. Students

Sara Emad El-Agamy Abdelaal

Before joining OIST in fall 2018, I obtained a MSc. in Pharmacology and Toxicology. My investigation of the mechanisms underlying the neuroprotective effect of the natural carotenoid astaxanthin against chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment during my thesis sparked my interest in pursuing molecular neuroscience for my PhD. I have always been fascinated by how molecular machinery work. For instance, how kinesin or dynein motors grab onto organelles and signaling complexes and appear to “walk” along the microtubules with little legs. Personally, it becomes more interesting how this “walking” is regulated in polarized cells like neurons. How tightly are the neuronal signaling and transport systems interconnected? How can any minimal dysregulation results in deficits and neurodegeneration? These are questions I am very much interested in.

Maria Emily

I got my Bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Tsukuba where I specialized in micro and molecular biology. I am interested in the molecular mechanisms that happen in axons, especially those contributing in neurodegenerative diseases. During my first rotation at OIST, I had the chance to work with microfluidic chips and it piqued my interest to utilize microfluidics in my research. Since microfluidics has been utilized to study axons, working as a rotation student in Molecular Neuroscience Unit gives me an interesting chance to combine molecular biology and microfluidics together.

Sarah Zakhia

I graduated with a BSc in Biology at the Lebanese American University in Beirut in 2014. After graduation, I began an internship at the Cancer Cell and Molecular Biology Lab at the same university. My work involved the investigation of the possible therapeutic effects of extracellular arginine depletion on migration and invasion in glioblastoma cell lines. My attention then turned toward neurodegenerative diseases and injury regeneration. I am interested in the molecular mechanisms of LLPS granule propagation in neurodegenerative diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis as well as the crosstalk between neurons and glial cells.

Fregoso Fernandez Esteban Gabriel

I graduated from medicine at Universidad de Guadalajara and worked in the clinical field for 3 years. In that time, I joined 2 neuroscience laboratories and got experience in basic and clinical research. Then, inspired by the lack of treatment options for neurological diseases/injuries, I decided to study an MSc in Regenerative Medicine at the Queen Mary University of London.
Now, I want to continue studying neuro-regeneration at OIST for my Ph.D. and conduct translational research in the long-term future.

Maria Fernanda Bolanos Alejos

I worked in the Neurogenesis research lab of the National Institute of Psychiatry after completing my BSc in Pharmaceutical Chemistry in Mexico. There I helped analyze how different drugs and physical conditions such as deep brain stimulation or enriched environment affect cell proliferation in the hypothalamus and how this could help mental disorder treatments. During my MSc in Biotechnology at the University of Edinburgh, I became even more interested in the translation of research, and upon completion I had the opportunity to work in the Biochemistry department of UNAM in a project aimed to determine how membrane progesterone receptors regulate the expression of human glioblastoma cells. Here at the Molecular Neuroscience Unit in OIST I want to contribute to the understanding of mechanisms modulating axonal transport and to get meaningful insights to neuronal regeneration for disease treatment.

Research Intern

Ayane Mitoro

I am in the 4th grade of my Bachelor’s degree in Medicine at Kyoto University. In course of my medical studies, I have learned about many diseases involving the nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson’s disease and others. And sadly, those diseases are often intractable. I became particularly interested in the fact that the once the central nervous system is damaged, it cannot be repaired. Now as a research intern, this unit gave me the chance to research about the kinetics of a protein in axons, one of the important structures of central nerve cells. I believe that this opportunity to learn research techniques on interesting topics will motivate me to study more in the future.


Maria Paglione (JSPS research fellow from November 2021 to February 2022)

I obtained my MSc in Biology at the University of Naples “Federico II” in Italy, with a major focus on reproduction and cell differentiation. My fascination for genetics and neuroscience led me to the lab of Dr. Di Schiavi. There, in my MSc, I characterized mutant genes involved in Parkinson-like disease in Caenorhabditis elegans. For my PhD, I joined the lab of Dr. Neukomm at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) in Switzerland to identify essential mechanisms for the survival of the axon and its synapse in Drosophila.
I was recently awarded a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Fellowship co-funded by the Leading House ETH Zürich in Switzerland. It supports a 3-month scientific exchange between Japan and Switzerland. Hence I joined the lab of Dr. Terenzio at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) because it offers an excellent environment to decipher whether local mRNA translation is an essential maintenance mechanism in axons and synapses.




Alessandro Massaro (Research Intern from May 2022 to August 2022)

I graduated as a MSc at the university of Palermo, Italy. My focus during my year of research for the Master's thesis was on the impact of obesity-linked low grade chronic inflammation and oxidative stress on the onset of T2DM, and the role that dietary antioxidant phytochemicals can have on the treatment and prevention of such disease. After my graduation a kept attending the same laboratory as a research volunteer jr. scientist and started studying the metabolic implications of the development of senile dementia and Alzheimer's Disease, now often called Type 3 Diabetes Mellitus (T3DM), in contrast to healthy aging, and the possible role of antioxidants in slowing its onset.
I decided to join OIST and Prof. Terenzio's Unit because I wanted to broaden and deepen my knowledge both practical and theoretical on Neuroscience to further continue my research, inspired by the multicultural and multidisciplinary environment of the institute.

Yang Ming (Rotation Student from May to August, 2022)

I obtained my master's degree from Tzu Chi University in Taiwan, during which I investigated the functional role of the Cav3.2 T-type calcium channel in autistic-like behaviors with Dr. Ingrid Liu. To further broaden my knowledge of the central nervous system, I then joined Dr. Jun-An Chen’s lab at Academia Sinica as a research assistant focusing on non-coding RNA dysregulation in the motor neuron disease called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). My experiences through these years not only reinforced my interest in neuroscience but made me reflect on more far-reaching questions about the field. How do the excitatory and inhibitory neurons function in harmony? How does the brain compute the multitude of sensory inputs to determine response output? And how do the neurons and neural circuits properly form or become dysregulated during development and degeneration? I am eager to address such complicated yet tasteful questions during my Ph.D. studies.

Tara Helmi Turkki (Rotation Student from May to August, 2022)

I obtained my BSc in biochemistry and cell biology with a minor in psychology at Jacobs University Bremen, Germany and have come to OIST to focus my research to the field of molecular neuroscience with a special interest in neurodegenerative diseases and neuron regeneration. My interests began back in high school when I first had the opportunity to get a glimpse into the power and potential of research in terms of long-term improvement of human health, as well as expanding the limits of our knowledge of the brain. Throughout my PhD, I aim to reach for that potential, never stop asking questions, and learn new things with every new obstacle that I face. 

Research Unit Administrator

Akiko Guzman

Akiko oversees the units adminstrative work. She enjoys working in such a diverse research unit. Outside of work, she loves to eat and travel.