Susan L. Ackerman is the Stephen Kuffler Professor of Biology and a Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California San Diego. She has been a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator since 2005. Ackerman is a neuroscientist recognized for her work on elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying central nervous system development and neurodegeneration. In her early studies, she identified a signaling receptor that is necessary for proper neuronal migration and axon guidance in the developing brain. Her unbiased genetic studies in neurodegenerative mouse models have identified several mechanisms underlying neuronal homeostasis. Ackerman was born in Mt. Clemens, Michigan and grew up in Folsom, CA. She graduated from California State University, Chico with degrees in Biological Sciences and Chemistry and in 1987, she received her PhD in Biology from University of California at Los Angeles. After postdoctoral work at University of Illinois at Chicago School of Medicine and the Wistar Institute, Ackerman joined the faculty of The Jackson Laboratory in 1997. She moved to University of California San Diego in 2016. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

The Ackerman laboratory focuses on the mechanisms involved in the maintenance of neuronal homeostasis and age-related death of neurons in the mammalian central nervous system. The lab's studies have combined mouse genetic screens, genomics, cell biology, and biochemistry to identify novel molecular pathways underlying neurodegeneration. Using these tools, the lab has found that disruption of endoplasmic reticulum homeostasis, abnormal lipid biogenesis, and the loss of fidelity of mRNA translation lead to protein misfolding, a hallmark of neurodegeneration in the aging brain. In addition, their studies have shown that both distortion of pre-mRNA splicing via disruption of spliceosomal RNA and failure to resolve stalled translation elongation complexes leads to neurodegeneration. The Ackerman lab also makes use of natural variation present in different inbred mouse strains to identify genes that modify neurodegenerative phenotypes. This unbiased approach has led to the identification of a tRNA specifically expressed in the nervous system, and provided evidence for phenotypic consequences of mutations in cytoplasmic, multi-copy tRNAs in higher eukaryotes. Using a similar genetic approach, the Ackerman lab has also defined a new mechanism of tRNA synthetase proofreading.

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Primary Section

Section 24: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Secondary Section

Section 26: Genetics