Honors & Awards


  • 2017 STAT Wunderkinds Award, STAT News
  • Pediatric Scientist Development Program Award, The Association of Medical School Pediatric Department Chairs (AMSPDC)
  • Bechtel Endowed Fellow in Pediatric Translational Medicine, Child Health Research Institute, Stanford University

Professional Education


  • Neonatology Fellowship, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University, Neonatology (2018)
  • PSDP Scholar, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University, Perinatal Brain Development (2016)
  • Board Certification, Pediatrics, American Board of Pediatrics (2013)
  • Pediatrics Residency, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University, Pediatrics (2013)
  • Pediatrics Internship, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University, Pediatrics (2011)
  • ECFMG Certification, Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, Medicine (2009)
  • M.D., Iuliu Hatieganu University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Romania, Medicine (2007)

Current Research and Scholarly Interests


The research focus of the lab is to understand molecular mechanisms underlying neurodevelopmental disorders associated with premature birth, neonatal and fetal brain injury with the long-term goal of translating the lab’s findings into therapeutics. The research team employs a multidisciplinary approach involving genetics, molecular and developmental neurobiology, animal models and neural cells differentiated from patient-derived induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. In particular, the lab is using a powerful 3D human brain-region specific organoid system developed at Stanford (Nature Methods, 2015; Nature Protocols, 2018) to ask questions about brain injury during development.

Graduate and Fellowship Programs


All Publications


  • Generation and assembly of human brain region-specific three-dimensional cultures. Nature protocols Sloan, S. A., Andersen, J., Pașca, A. M., Birey, F., Pașca, S. P. 2018

    Abstract

    The ability to generate region-specific three-dimensional (3D) models to study human brain development offers great promise for understanding the nervous system in both healthy individuals and patients. In this protocol, we describe how to generate and assemble subdomain-specific forebrain spheroids, also known as brain region-specific organoids, from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs). We describe how to pattern the neural spheroids toward either a dorsal forebrain or a ventral forebrain fate, establishing human cortical spheroids (hCSs) and human subpallial spheroids (hSSs), respectively. We also describe how to combine the neural spheroids in vitro to assemble forebrain assembloids that recapitulate the interactions of glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons seen in vivo. Astrocytes are also present in the human forebrain-specific spheroids, and these undergo maturation when the forebrain spheroids are cultured long term. The initial generation of neural spheroids from hPSCs occurs in <1 week, with regional patterning occurring over the subsequent 5 weeks. After the maturation stage, brain region-specific spheroids are amenable to a variety of assays, including live-cell imaging, calcium dynamics, electrophysiology, cell purification, single-cell transcriptomics, and immunohistochemistry studies. Once generated, forebrain spheroids can also be matured for >24 months in culture.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41596-018-0032-7

    View details for PubMedID 30202107

  • Functional cortical neurons and astrocytes from human pluripotent stem cells in 3D cultures. Nature Methods Pasca, A. M., Sloan, S., Clarke, L. E., Tian, Y., Makinson, C., Huber, N., Kim, C., Park, J., O’Rourke, N., Nguyen, K., Smith, S. J., Huguenard, J., Geschwind, D. H., Barres, B. A., Pasca, S. P. 2015: 671–78

    Abstract

    The human cerebral cortex develops through an elaborate succession of cellular events that, when disrupted, can lead to neuropsychiatric disease. The ability to reprogram somatic cells into pluripotent cells that can be differentiated in vitro provides a unique opportunity to study normal and abnormal corticogenesis. Here, we present a simple and reproducible 3D culture approach for generating a laminated cerebral cortex-like structure, named human cortical spheroids (hCSs), from pluripotent stem cells. hCSs contain neurons from both deep and superficial cortical layers and map transcriptionally to in vivo fetal development. These neurons are electrophysiologically mature, display spontaneous activity, are surrounded by nonreactive astrocytes and form functional synapses. Experiments in acute hCS slices demonstrate that cortical neurons participate in network activity and produce complex synaptic events. These 3D cultures should allow a detailed interrogation of human cortical development, function and disease, and may prove a versatile platform for generating other neuronal and glial subtypes in vitro.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nmeth.3415

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4489980

  • PLACENTAL HORMONE CONTRIBUTION TO FETAL BRAIN DAMAGE Joint Meeting of the International-Federation-of-Placenta-Associations (IFPA) and European-Placenta-Group (EPG) Penn, A., Moss, W., Agrawal, M., Volate, S., Leuenberger, D., Kiraly, M., Pasca, A., Chisholm, K. W B SAUNDERS CO LTD. 2014: A52–A52
  • Neonatal CSF oxytocin levels are associated with parent report of infant soothability and sociability. Psychoneuroendocrinology Clark, C. L., St John, N., Pasca, A. M., Hyde, S. A., Hornbeak, K., Abramova, M., Feldman, H., Parker, K. J., Penn, A. A. 2013; 38 (7): 1208-1212

    Abstract

    Oxytocin (OT) has been linked to social behavior in rodents, non-human primates, and adult humans, but almost nothing is known about brain OT activity in human newborns or its impact on social development. To better understand the role of OT biology in human social functioning, a multi-disciplinary, longitudinal study was conducted. Cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) OT levels from 18 human neonates were evaluated and examined in relationship to social-seeking behavior at term, at 3 months, and at 6 months of age. Higher neonatal CSF OT levels were consistently associated with solicitation of parental soothing and interest in social engagement with others. This is the first study to link CSF OT levels to normative human social functioning. Research is now required to test whether early OT levels serve as a biomarker for subsequent social abnormalities.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.10.017

    View details for PubMedID 23507187

  • Using iPSC-derived neurons to uncover cellular phenotypes associated with Timothy syndrome NATURE MEDICINE Pasca, S. P., Portmann, T., Voineagu, I., Yazawa, M., Shcheglovitov, A., Pasca, A. M., Cord, B., Palmer, T. D., Chikahisa, S., Nishino, S., Bernstein, J. A., Hallmayer, J., Geschwind, D. H., Dolmetsch, R. E. 2011; 17 (12): 1657-U176

    Abstract

    Monogenic neurodevelopmental disorders provide key insights into the pathogenesis of disease and help us understand how specific genes control the development of the human brain. Timothy syndrome is caused by a missense mutation in the L-type calcium channel Ca(v)1.2 that is associated with developmental delay and autism. We generated cortical neuronal precursor cells and neurons from induced pluripotent stem cells derived from individuals with Timothy syndrome. Cells from these individuals have defects in calcium (Ca(2+)) signaling and activity-dependent gene expression. They also show abnormalities in differentiation, including decreased expression of genes that are expressed in lower cortical layers and in callosal projection neurons. In addition, neurons derived from individuals with Timothy syndrome show abnormal expression of tyrosine hydroxylase and increased production of norepinephrine and dopamine. This phenotype can be reversed by treatment with roscovitine, a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor and atypical L-type-channel blocker. These findings provide strong evidence that Ca(v)1.2 regulates the differentiation of cortical neurons in humans and offer new insights into the causes of autism in individuals with Timothy syndrome.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nm.2576

    View details for Web of Science ID 000297978000039

    View details for PubMedID 22120178

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3517299

  • Using induced pluripotent stem cells to investigate cardiac phenotypes in Timothy syndrome NATURE Yazawa, M., Hsueh, B., Jia, X., Pasca, A. M., Bernstein, J. A., Hallmayer, J., Dolmetsch, R. E. 2011; 471 (7337): 230-U120

    Abstract

    Individuals with congenital or acquired prolongation of the QT interval, or long QT syndrome (LQTS), are at risk of life-threatening ventricular arrhythmia. LQTS is commonly genetic in origin but can also be caused or exacerbated by environmental factors. A missense mutation in the L-type calcium channel Ca(V)1.2 leads to LQTS in patients with Timothy syndrome. To explore the effect of the Timothy syndrome mutation on the electrical activity and contraction of human cardiomyocytes, we reprogrammed human skin cells from Timothy syndrome patients to generate induced pluripotent stem cells, and differentiated these cells into cardiomyocytes. Electrophysiological recording and calcium (Ca(2+)) imaging studies of these cells revealed irregular contraction, excess Ca(2+) influx, prolonged action potentials, irregular electrical activity and abnormal calcium transients in ventricular-like cells. We found that roscovitine, a compound that increases the voltage-dependent inactivation of Ca(V)1.2 (refs 6-8), restored the electrical and Ca(2+) signalling properties of cardiomyocytes from Timothy syndrome patients. This study provides new opportunities for studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms of cardiac arrhythmias in humans, and provides a robust assay for developing new drugs to treat these diseases.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nature09855

    View details for Web of Science ID 000288170200040

    View details for PubMedID 21307850

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC3077925

  • The Placenta: The Lost Neuroendocrine Organ Neoreviews Pasca, A. M., Penn, A. A. 2010; 11 (2)