Professor Lin, you’re among only a handful of scientists, nationwide,
studying excitotoxic cell death. Please explain your research, and what this
means for stroke victims.
After a stroke, millions of brain cells can get over excited and the cells
can die. This cell death is an ongoing process. This condition can be
prevented if the neurological signaling pathways that that cause cell death
are inhibited. If we use proteins that block excitotoxic pathways, we could
prevent post-stroke death.
How do you describe an “excitoxin?”
An excitoxin, is an excited poison. It is a normal
neurotransmitter that damages neurons when released in large amounts. An
excitoxin binds to certain nerve cell receptors, stimulates the cell, and
either damages the cell or results in neuronal cell death. Excitatory amino
acids, can produce lesions in the central nervous system and set off
progressive diseases such as. It’s also a factor in nerve damage in patients
who have epilepsy or asphyxiation.
In addition to strokes, what types of medical problems can arise from cell
Excitotoxic cell death is thought to be a central and underlying cause of
brain damage in a variety of neurodegenerative disorders such as
Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s disease. An understanding of what
causes cell death and lesions after strokes will lead to prevention of the
paralyzing cell loss.
Where did you study this subject before coming to
I earned my bachelors and doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. Most recently I’ve collaborated with professors
at Yale University on this subject. Prior to coming aboard at Wesleyan in 2002, I worked in
both the oncology and neuroscience fields, studying serotonin-associated
signaling pathways, cloning novel signaling molecules from the brain, and
studying the mechanism by which salmonella can target tumors and slow tumor
What are some of your recent publication topics?
They cover a broad range of topics, including neuroscience, immunology,
oncology, and microbiology. My most recent articles include “Oxidative
damage and defective DNA repair is linked to apoptosis of migrating neurons
and progenitors during cerebral cortex development in Ku70-deficient mice,”
which will be published in “Cerebral Cortex,” and “Role of SptP in enhanced
tumor necrosis factor-a
secretion and ERK activation in murine macrophages by Salmonella typhimurium,”
which appeared in “Cellular Microbiology.”
Do you collaborate with any of the other professors?
I perform research with Janice Naegele who is an
associate professor in biology and neuroscience and behavior. She
investigates the role of DNA repair in neuroprotection. She’s more
anatomical, and I’m more molecular, so our work complements each other’s.
We, and student Jia Liu, study cell cultures and segments of rodent brain.
Under a microscope, we study the activity of a specific molecule,
technically called “striatal-enriched tyrosine phosphatase,” or STEP, a
brain-specific molecule that turns off cell death pathways. During nerve
death, the STEP molecule gets degraded, and is no longer present to prevent
Please explain more about these STEP molecules.
The STEP proteins, both normal and mutated, are fused to amino acids that
allow the STEP proteins to enter cells, bind to enzymes in the cell death
pathway, and block death-associated signaling. So far, we’ve shown that
addition of certain STEP mutants, but not others, can block excitatory cell
death. I plan to study the differences in action of the individual STEP
mutants in order to identify the critical cellular reactions involved in
What classes do you teach here and what do you want students to get out of
Last fall, I taught neuropharmacology and this spring, I’m teaching a
molecular and cellular neurobiology laboratory course. I want students to
get a fundamental understanding of how cells work in the brain, the anatomy
of the brain, and hope they can visualize paths in the brain.
How do you study the brain?
We study them directly. Along with graduate students Jia Liu and Mohit Neema,
we bring out a mini ‘bologna slicer’ and will slice apart mice brains for
students to study under the scope.
Do you enjoy research or teaching more?
I’ve always done research, but I’m enjoying teaching, too. Research keeps me
mentally active, whereas the students can really keep you on your toes.
Those students who really get into neurology are the most rewarding to
I understand working here has some sentimental value to you.
Yes. My father, Po Chen Lin, earned his master’s degree in English
literature from Wesleyan in 1948 under Professor Fred Millett.
What do you do after a long day in the lab?
I studied violin at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins, so I like to
meet up with my trio. We call ourselves Youth ‘n’ Asia. We have performed at
various local venues, including Connecticut Hospice and the Neighborhood
Music School. I also enjoy reading and spending time with my daughters,
Shau-Ru a recent graduate of Smith College, and Fu-Fu.