Harvard University COVID-19 updates

Resources Directory
Postdoctoral Fellow

Elizabeth May

Postdoctoral Fellow

MCO SROH Summer Program Student Leader (2017-2019)

Back to Current Student Profiles


Project Title: Molecular and Biophysical Mechanisms of Neuronal Self- and Non-self Recognition

Neuronal processes (dendrites and axons) extend far away from the cell body and function by forming synaptic connections with processes from other cells. Thus, neurons face a unique problem compared to other cell types because of their distinctive morphology: neurons have to distinguish if the other processes that they encounter originate from the same cell body (a self-contact) or from a different one (a non-self contact). Self- and non-self recognition in neurons is mediated by a family of proteins called clustered protocadherins. There are many different types of clustered protocadherin proteins that interact with each other in order to carry out their functions. Neurons distinguish a self- versus non-self contact by comparing which clustered protocadherins are present. In particular, highly specific interactions between proteins of the same type (and not between different types) across two contacting neuronal processes allow this comparison to occur. My research project focuses on investigating which parts of the clustered protocadherin proteins are most important for the specific preferences of their interactions. I am using X-ray crystallography to determine the structures of clustered protocadherins while they are engaged in their highly specific interactions. I am also using a cell-based functional assay to test whether I can alter the specificity of particular types of clustered protocadherins by introducing mutations into the interaction interface.



Harvard Health Professionals Recruitment and Exposure Program (HPREP), Mentor and Mentoring Committee Director

Harvard Molecules, Cells and Organisms/Summer Research Opportunities at Harvard (MCO/SROH), Graduate Student Program Coordinator

Harvard Graduate Women In Science and Engineering (HGWISE) Graduate Student Mentor

Harvard Bureau of Study Council (BSC) Peer Tutor

HarvardX PyMOL content developer

TF for MCB65, MCB293 at Harvard University

Teaching Consultant for LS1a at Harvard University

Molecules, Cells, and Organisms Graduate Student Peer Mentor