Honors & Awards

  • Stanford School of Medicine Dean's Fellowship, Stanford University (2021)
  • Penn State Graduate Student Excellence in Mentoring Award, The Pennsylvania State University (2019)
  • Nominee for the 2018 Dean's Climate and Diversity Award, The Pennsylvania State University (2018)

Professional Education

  • PhD, The Pennsylvania State University, Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Biosciences (2020)
  • BS, The Pennsylvania State University, Biology (2013)

Stanford Advisors

Current Research and Scholarly Interests

The planar cell polarity (PCP) signaling pathway polarizes animal cells along an axis parallel to the tissue plane, and in so doing generates long-range organization that can span entire tissues. Although its core proteins and much about their interactions are known, how PCP signaling occurs at a mechanistic level remains fundamentally mysterious. In my current project I will employ novel genetic methods to dissect the logic underlying how cellular asymmetry arises at a molecular level.

Lab Affiliations

All Publications

  • Functional assessment of the "two-hit" model for neurodevelopmental defects in Drosophila and X. laevis. PLoS genetics Pizzo, L., Lasser, M., Yusuff, T., Jensen, M., Ingraham, P., Huber, E., Singh, M. D., Monahan, C., Iyer, J., Desai, I., Karthikeyan, S., Gould, D. J., Yennawar, S., Weiner, A. T., Pounraja, V. K., Krishnan, A., Rolls, M. M., Lowery, L. A., Girirajan, S. 2021; 17 (4): e1009112


    We previously identified a deletion on chromosome 16p12.1 that is mostly inherited and associated with multiple neurodevelopmental outcomes, where severely affected probands carried an excess of rare pathogenic variants compared to mildly affected carrier parents. We hypothesized that the 16p12.1 deletion sensitizes the genome for disease, while "second-hits" in the genetic background modulate the phenotypic trajectory. To test this model, we examined how neurodevelopmental defects conferred by knockdown of individual 16p12.1 homologs are modulated by simultaneous knockdown of homologs of "second-hit" genes in Drosophila melanogaster and Xenopus laevis. We observed that knockdown of 16p12.1 homologs affect multiple phenotypic domains, leading to delayed developmental timing, seizure susceptibility, brain alterations, abnormal dendrite and axonal morphology, and cellular proliferation defects. Compared to genes within the 16p11.2 deletion, which has higher de novo occurrence, 16p12.1 homologs were less likely to interact with each other in Drosophila models or a human brain-specific interaction network, suggesting that interactions with "second-hit" genes may confer higher impact towards neurodevelopmental phenotypes. Assessment of 212 pairwise interactions in Drosophila between 16p12.1 homologs and 76 homologs of patient-specific "second-hit" genes (such as ARID1B and CACNA1A), genes within neurodevelopmental pathways (such as PTEN and UBE3A), and transcriptomic targets (such as DSCAM and TRRAP) identified genetic interactions in 63% of the tested pairs. In 11 out of 15 families, patient-specific "second-hits" enhanced or suppressed the phenotypic effects of one or many 16p12.1 homologs in 32/96 pairwise combinations tested. In fact, homologs of SETD5 synergistically interacted with homologs of MOSMO in both Drosophila and X. laevis, leading to modified cellular and brain phenotypes, as well as axon outgrowth defects that were not observed with knockdown of either individual homolog. Our results suggest that several 16p12.1 genes sensitize the genome towards neurodevelopmental defects, and complex interactions with "second-hit" genes determine the ultimate phenotypic manifestation.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1009112

    View details for PubMedID 33819264

  • To nucleate or not, that is the question in neurons. Neuroscience letters Weiner, A. T., Thyagarajan, P., Shen, Y., Rolls, M. M. 2021: 135806


    Microtubules are the structural center of neurons, stretching in overlapping arrays from the cell body to the far reaches of axons and dendrites. They also act as the tracks for long-range transport mediated by dynein and kinesin motors. Transcription and most translation take place in the cell body, and newly made cargoes must be shipped from this site of synthesis to sites of function in axons and dendrites. This constant demand for transport means that the microtubule array must be present without gaps throughout the cell over the lifetime of the animal. This task is made slightly easier in many animals by the relatively long, stable microtubules present in neurons. However, even stable neuronal microtubules have ends that are dynamic, and individual microtubules typically last on the order of hours, while the neurons around them last a lifetime. "Birth" of new microtubules is therefore required to maintain the neuronal microtubule array. In this review we discuss the nucleation of new microtubules in axons and dendrites, including how and where they are nucleated. In addition, it is becoming clear that neuronal microtubule nucleation is highly regulated, with unexpected machinery impinging on the decision of whether nucleation sites are active or inactive through space and time.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.neulet.2021.135806

    View details for PubMedID 33705928

  • Trim9 and Klp61F promote polymerization of new dendritic microtubules along parallel microtubules. Journal of cell science Feng, C. n., Cleary, J. M., Kothe, G. O., Stone, M. C., Weiner, A. T., Hertzler, J. I., Hancock, W. O., Rolls, M. M. 2021


    Axons and dendrites are distinguished by microtubule polarity. In Drosophila, dendrites are dominated by minus-end-out microtubules while axons contain plus-end-out microtubules. Local nucleation in dendrites generates microtubules in both orientations. To understand why dendritic nucleation does not disrupt polarity, we used live imaging to analyze the fate of microtubules generated at branch points. We found that they had different rates of success exiting the branch based on orientation: correctly oriented minus-end-out microtubules succeeded in leaving about twice as often as incorrectly oriented microtubules. Increased success relied on other microtubules in a parallel orientation. From a candidate screen, we identified Trim9 and kinesin-5 (Klp61F) as machinery that promoted growth of new microtubules. In S2 cells, EB1 recruited Trim9 to microtubules. Klp61F promoted microtubule growth in vitro and in vivo, and could recruit Trim9 in S2 cells. In summary, the data argue that Trim9 and kinesin-5 act together at microtubule plus ends to help polymerizing microtubules parallel to pre-existing ones resist catastrophe.

    View details for DOI 10.1242/jcs.258437

    View details for PubMedID 33988240

  • Kinetochore proteins suppress neuronal microtubule dynamics and promote dendrite regeneration MOLECULAR BIOLOGY OF THE CELL Hertzler, J., Simonovitch, S., Albertson, R. M., Weiner, A. T., Nye, D. R., Rolls, M. M. 2020; 31 (19): 2125–38


    Kinetochores connect centromeric chromatin to spindle microtubules during mitosis. Neurons are postmitotic, so it was surprising to identify transcripts of structural kinetochore (KT) proteins and regulatory chromosome passenger complex (CPC) and spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) proteins in Drosophila neurons after dendrite injury. To test whether these proteins function during dendrite regeneration, postmitotic RNA interference (RNAi) was performed and dendrites or axons were removed using laser microsurgery. Reduction of KT, CPC, and SAC proteins decreased dendrite regeneration without affecting axon regeneration. To understand whether neuronal functions of these proteins rely on microtubules, we analyzed microtubule behavior in uninjured neurons. The number of growing plus, but not minus, ends increased in dendrites with reduced KT, CPC, and SAC proteins, while axonal microtubules were unaffected. Increased dendritic microtubule dynamics was independent of dual leucine zipper kinase (DLK)-mediated stress but was rescued by concurrent reduction of γ-tubulin, the core microtubule nucleation protein. Reduction of γ-tubulin also rescued dendrite regeneration in backgrounds containing kinetochore RNAi transgenes. We conclude that kinetochore proteins function postmitotically in neurons to suppress dendritic microtubule dynamics by inhibiting nucleation.

    View details for DOI 10.1091/mbc.E20-04-0237-T

    View details for Web of Science ID 000564266000005

    View details for PubMedID 32673176

  • The receptor tyrosine kinase Ror is required for dendrite regeneration in Drosophila neurons PLOS BIOLOGY Nye, D. R., Albertson, R. M., Weiner, A. T., Hertzler, J., Shorey, M., Goberdhan, D. I., Wilson, C., Janes, K. A., Rolls, M. M. 2020; 18 (3): e3000657


    While many regulators of axon regeneration have been identified, very little is known about mechanisms that allow dendrites to regenerate after injury. Using a Drosophila model of dendrite regeneration, we performed a candidate screen of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) and found a requirement for RTK-like orphan receptor (Ror). We confirmed that Ror was required for regeneration in two different neuron types using RNA interference (RNAi) and mutants. Ror was not required for axon regeneration or normal dendrite development, suggesting a specific role in dendrite regeneration. Ror can act as a Wnt coreceptor with frizzleds (fzs) in other contexts, so we tested the involvement of Wnt signaling proteins in dendrite regeneration. We found that knockdown of fz, dishevelled (dsh), Axin, and gilgamesh (gish) also reduced dendrite regeneration. Moreover, Ror was required to position dsh and Axin in dendrites. We recently found that Wnt signaling proteins, including dsh and Axin, localize microtubule nucleation machinery in dendrites. We therefore hypothesized that Ror may act by regulating microtubule nucleation at baseline and during dendrite regeneration. Consistent with this hypothesis, localization of the core nucleation protein γTubulin was reduced in Ror RNAi neurons, and this effect was strongest during dendrite regeneration. In addition, dendrite regeneration was sensitive to partial reduction of γTubulin. We conclude that Ror promotes dendrite regeneration as part of a Wnt signaling pathway that regulates dendritic microtubule nucleation.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000657

    View details for Web of Science ID 000558340000006

    View details for PubMedID 32163406

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC7067388

  • Endosomal Wnt signaling proteins control microtubule nucleation in dendrites. PLoS biology Weiner, A. T., Seebold, D. Y., Torres-Gutierrez, P. n., Folker, C. n., Swope, R. D., Kothe, G. O., Stoltz, J. G., Zalenski, M. K., Kozlowski, C. n., Barbera, D. J., Patel, M. A., Thyagarajan, P. n., Shorey, M. n., Nye, D. M., Keegan, M. n., Behari, K. n., Song, S. n., Axelrod, J. D., Rolls, M. M. 2020; 18 (3): e3000647


    Dendrite microtubules are polarized with minus-end-out orientation in Drosophila neurons. Nucleation sites concentrate at dendrite branch points, but how they localize is not known. Using Drosophila, we found that canonical Wnt signaling proteins regulate localization of the core nucleation protein γTubulin (γTub). Reduction of frizzleds (fz), arrow (low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein [LRP] 5/6), dishevelled (dsh), casein kinase Iγ, G proteins, and Axin reduced γTub-green fluorescent protein (GFP) at branch points, and two functional readouts of dendritic nucleation confirmed a role for Wnt signaling proteins. Both dsh and Axin localized to branch points, with dsh upstream of Axin. Moreover, tethering Axin to mitochondria was sufficient to recruit ectopic γTub-GFP and increase microtubule dynamics in dendrites. At dendrite branch points, Axin and dsh colocalized with early endosomal marker Rab5, and new microtubule growth initiated at puncta marked with fz, dsh, Axin, and Rab5. We propose that in dendrites, canonical Wnt signaling proteins are housed on early endosomes and recruit nucleation sites to branch points.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000647

    View details for PubMedID 32163403

  • Patronin-mediated minus end growth is required for dendritic microtubule polarity JOURNAL OF CELL BIOLOGY Feng, C., Thyagarajan, P., Shorey, M., Seebold, D. Y., Weiner, A. T., Albertson, R. M., Rao, K. S., Sagasti, A., Goetschius, D. J., Rolls, M. M. 2019; 218 (7): 2309–28


    Microtubule minus ends are thought to be stable in cells. Surprisingly, in Drosophila and zebrafish neurons, we observed persistent minus end growth, with runs lasting over 10 min. In Drosophila, extended minus end growth depended on Patronin, and Patronin reduction disrupted dendritic minus-end-out polarity. In fly dendrites, microtubule nucleation sites localize at dendrite branch points. Therefore, we hypothesized minus end growth might be particularly important beyond branch points. Distal dendrites have mixed polarity, and reduction of Patronin lowered the number of minus-end-out microtubules. More strikingly, extra Patronin made terminal dendrites almost completely minus-end-out, indicating low Patronin normally limits minus-end-out microtubules. To determine whether minus end growth populated new dendrites with microtubules, we analyzed dendrite development and regeneration. Minus ends extended into growing dendrites in the presence of Patronin. In sum, our data suggest that Patronin facilitates sustained microtubule minus end growth, which is critical for populating dendrites with minus-end-out microtubules.

    View details for DOI 10.1083/jcb.201810155

    View details for Web of Science ID 000473328200022

    View details for PubMedID 31076454

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6605808

  • Pervasive genetic interactions modulate neurodevelopmental defects of the autism-associated 16p11.2 deletion in Drosophila melanogaster NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Iyer, J., Singh, M., Jensen, M., Patel, P., Pizzo, L., Huber, E., Koerselman, H., Weiner, A. T., Lepanto, P., Vadodaria, K., Kubina, A., Wang, Q., Talbert, A., Yennawar, S., Badano, J., Manak, J., Rolls, M. M., Krishnan, A., Girirajan, S. 2018; 9: 2548


    As opposed to syndromic CNVs caused by single genes, extensive phenotypic heterogeneity in variably-expressive CNVs complicates disease gene discovery and functional evaluation. Here, we propose a complex interaction model for pathogenicity of the autism-associated 16p11.2 deletion, where CNV genes interact with each other in conserved pathways to modulate expression of the phenotype. Using multiple quantitative methods in Drosophila RNAi lines, we identify a range of neurodevelopmental phenotypes for knockdown of individual 16p11.2 homologs in different tissues. We test 565 pairwise knockdowns in the developing eye, and identify 24 interactions between pairs of 16p11.2 homologs and 46 interactions between 16p11.2 homologs and neurodevelopmental genes that suppress or enhance cell proliferation phenotypes compared to one-hit knockdowns. These interactions within cell proliferation pathways are also enriched in a human brain-specific network, providing translational relevance in humans. Our study indicates a role for pervasive genetic interactions within CNVs towards cellular and developmental phenotypes.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-018-04882-6

    View details for Web of Science ID 000436791400009

    View details for PubMedID 29959322

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC6026208

  • Identification of Proteins Required for Precise Positioning of Apc2 in Dendrites G3-GENES GENOMES GENETICS Weiner, A. T., Seebold, D. Y., Michael, N. L., Guignet, M., Feng, C., Follick, B., Yusko, B. A., Wasilko, N. P., Torres-Gutierrez, P., Rolls, M. M. 2018; 8 (5): 1841–53


    In Drosophila neurons, uniform minus-end-out polarity in dendrites is maintained in part by kinesin-2-mediated steering of growing microtubules at branch points. Apc links the kinesin motor to growing microtubule plus ends and Apc2 recruits Apc to branch points where it functions. Because Apc2 acts to concentrate other steering proteins to branch points, we wished to understand how Apc2 is targeted. From an initial broad candidate RNAi screen, we found Miro (a mitochondrial transport protein), Ank2, Axin, spastin and Rac1 were required to position Apc2-GFP at dendrite branch points. YFP-Ank2-L8, Axin-GFP and mitochondria also localized to branch points suggesting the screen identified relevant proteins. By performing secondary screens, we found that energy production by mitochondria was key for Apc2-GFP positioning and spastin acted upstream of mitochondria. Ank2 seems to act independently from other players, except its membrane partner, Neuroglian (Nrg). Rac1 likely acts through Arp2/3 to generate branched actin to help recruit Apc2-GFP. Axin can function in a variety of wnt signaling pathways, one of which includes heterotrimeric G proteins and Frizzleds. Knockdown of Gαs, Gαo, Fz and Fz2, reduced targeting of Apc2 and Axin to branch points. Overall our data suggest that mitochondrial energy production, Nrg/Ank2, branched actin generated by Arp2/3 and Fz/G proteins/Axin function as four modules that control localization of the microtubule regulator Apc2 to its site of action in dendrite branch points.

    View details for DOI 10.1534/g3.118.200205

    View details for Web of Science ID 000432188000042

    View details for PubMedID 29602811

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5940173

  • Mitochondria and Caspases Tune Nmnat-Mediated Stabilization to Promote Axon Regeneration PLOS GENETICS Chen, L., Nye, D. M., Stone, M. C., Weiner, A. T., Gheres, K. W., Xiong, X., Collins, C. A., Rolls, M. M. 2016; 12 (12): e1006503


    Axon injury can lead to several cell survival responses including increased stability and axon regeneration. Using an accessible Drosophila model system, we investigated the regulation of injury responses and their relationship. Axon injury stabilizes the rest of the cell, including the entire dendrite arbor. After axon injury we found mitochondrial fission in dendrites was upregulated, and that reducing fission increased stabilization or neuroprotection (NP). Thus axon injury seems to both turn on NP, but also dampen it by activating mitochondrial fission. We also identified caspases as negative regulators of axon injury-mediated NP, so mitochondrial fission could control NP through caspase activation. In addition to negative regulators of NP, we found that nicotinamide mononucleotide adenylyltransferase (Nmnat) is absolutely required for this type of NP. Increased microtubule dynamics, which has previously been associated with NP, required Nmnat. Indeed Nmnat overexpression was sufficient to induce NP and increase microtubule dynamics in the absence of axon injury. DLK, JNK and fos were also required for NP. Because NP occurs before axon regeneration, and NP seems to be actively downregulated, we tested whether excessive NP might inhibit regeneration. Indeed both Nmnat overexpression and caspase reduction reduced regeneration. In addition, overexpression of fos or JNK extended the timecourse of NP and dampened regeneration in a Nmnat-dependent manner. These data suggest that NP and regeneration are conflicting responses to axon injury, and that therapeutic strategies that boost NP may reduce regeneration.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1006503

    View details for Web of Science ID 000392138700041

    View details for PubMedID 27923046

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5173288

  • Spastin, atlastin, and ER relocalization are involved in axon but not dendrite regeneration MOLECULAR BIOLOGY OF THE CELL Rao, K., Stone, M. C., Weiner, A. T., Gheres, K. W., Zhou, C., Deitcher, D. L., Levitan, E. S., Rolls, M. M. 2016; 27 (21): 3245–56


    Mutations in >50 genes, including spastin and atlastin, lead to hereditary spastic paraplegia (HSP). We previously demonstrated that reduction of spastin leads to a deficit in axon regeneration in a Drosophila model. Axon regeneration was similarly impaired in neurons when HSP proteins atlastin, seipin, and spichthyin were reduced. Impaired regeneration was dependent on genetic background and was observed when partial reduction of HSP proteins was combined with expression of dominant-negative microtubule regulators, suggesting that HSP proteins work with microtubules to promote regeneration. Microtubule rearrangements triggered by axon injury were, however, normal in all genotypes. We examined other markers to identify additional changes associated with regeneration. Whereas mitochondria, endosomes, and ribosomes did not exhibit dramatic repatterning during regeneration, the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) was frequently concentrated near the tip of the growing axon. In atlastin RNAi and spastin mutant animals, ER accumulation near single growing axon tips was impaired. ER tip concentration was observed only during axon regeneration and not during dendrite regeneration. In addition, dendrite regeneration was unaffected by reduction of spastin or atlastin. We propose that the HSP proteins spastin and atlastin promote axon regeneration by coordinating concentration of the ER and microtubules at the growing axon tip.

    View details for DOI 10.1091/mbc.E16-05-0287

    View details for Web of Science ID 000387389000014

    View details for PubMedID 27605706

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5170858

  • Kinesin-2 and Apc Function at Dendrite Branch Points to Resolve Microtubule Collisions CYTOSKELETON Weiner, A. T., Lanz, M. C., Goetschius, D. J., Hancock, W. O., Rolls, M. M. 2016; 73 (1): 35–44


    In Drosophila neurons, kinesin-2, EB1 and Apc are required to maintain minus-end-out dendrite microtubule polarity, and we previously proposed they steer microtubules at branch points. Motor-mediated steering of microtubule plus ends could be accomplished in two ways: 1) by linking a growing microtubule tip to the side of an adjacent microtubule as it navigates the branch point (bundling), or 2) by directing a growing microtubule after a collision with a stable microtubule (collision resolution). Using live imaging to distinguish between these two mechanisms, we found that reduction of kinesin-2 did not alter the number of microtubules that grew along the edge of the branch points where stable microtubules are found. However, reduction of kinesin-2 or Apc did affect the number of microtubules that slowed down or depolymerized as they encountered the side of the branch opposite to the entry point. These results are consistent with kinesin-2 functioning with Apc to resolve collisions. However, they do not pinpoint stable microtubules as the collision partner as stable microtubules are typically very close to the membrane. To determine whether growing microtubules were steered along stable ones after a collision, we analyzed the behavior of growing microtubules at dendrite crossroads where stable microtubules run through the middle of the branch point. In control neurons, microtubules turned in the middle of the crossroads. However, when kinesin-2 was reduced some microtubules grew straight through the branch point and failed to turn. We propose that kinesin-2 functions to steer growing microtubules along stable ones following collisions.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/cm.21270

    View details for Web of Science ID 000369794100003

    View details for PubMedID 26785384

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5093339

  • gamma-Tubulin controls neuronal microtubule polarity independently of Golgi outposts MOLECULAR BIOLOGY OF THE CELL Nguyen, M. M., McCracken, C. J., Milner, E. S., Goetschius, D. J., Weiner, A. T., Long, M. K., Michael, N. L., Munro, S., Rolls, M. M. 2014; 25 (13): 2039–50


    Neurons have highly polarized arrangements of microtubules, but it is incompletely understood how microtubule polarity is controlled in either axons or dendrites. To explore whether microtubule nucleation by γ-tubulin might contribute to polarity, we analyzed neuronal microtubules in Drosophila containing gain- or loss-of-function alleles of γ-tubulin. Both increased and decreased activity of γ-tubulin, the core microtubule nucleation protein, altered microtubule polarity in axons and dendrites, suggesting a close link between regulation of nucleation and polarity. To test whether nucleation might locally regulate polarity in axons and dendrites, we examined the distribution of γ-tubulin. Consistent with local nucleation, tagged and endogenous γ-tubulins were found in specific positions in dendrites and axons. Because the Golgi complex can house nucleation sites, we explored whether microtubule nucleation might occur at dendritic Golgi outposts. However, distinct Golgi outposts were not present in all dendrites that required regulated nucleation for polarity. Moreover, when we dragged the Golgi out of dendrites with an activated kinesin, γ-tubulin remained in dendrites. We conclude that regulated microtubule nucleation controls neuronal microtubule polarity but that the Golgi complex is not directly involved in housing nucleation sites.

    View details for DOI 10.1091/mbc.E13-09-0515

    View details for Web of Science ID 000339652900013

    View details for PubMedID 24807906

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4072577