Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory  
Contact Us | Faculty & Staff Directory

Media Contact

Public Affairs


Linda Van Aelst

Ph.D., Catholic University of Leuven, 1991
Van Aelst
Areas of Research:
Signal transduction; Ras and Rho proteins; tumorigenesis; neuronal development and disorders

View Faculty Page

Follow us on

  facebook-icon twitter-icon instagram-icon3 youtube-icon wordpress-icon2
  rss-icon email-icon linkedin-icon flipboard icon


Scientists discover two proteins that control chandelier cell architecture

Chandelier cells, a group of powerful inhibitory neurons, are important in epilepsy and schizophrenia

Cold Spring Harbor, NY – Chandelier cells are neurons that use their unique shape to act like master circuit breakers in the brain’s cerebral cortex. These cells have dozens, often hundreds, of branching axonal projections – output channels from the cell body of the neuron – that lend the full structure of a chandelier-like appearance. Each of those projections extends to a nearby excitatory neuron. The unique structure allows just one inhibitory chandelier cell to block or modify the output of literally hundreds of other cells at one time.

vanaelst_smaller_2014Chandelier cells (seen in green) use their remarkable branching architecture to inhibit hundreds of excitatory neurons (in red) in the brain. CSHL researchers have identified two proteins that control the structure of chandelier cells, offering insight into how these cells are regulated. (click to enlarge) Without such large-scale inhibition, some circuits in the brain would seize up, as occurs in epilepsy. Abnormal chandelier cell function also has been implicated in schizophrenia. Yet after nearly 40 years of research, little is known about how these important inhibitory neurons develop and function.

In work published today in Cell Reports, a team led by CSHL Professor Linda Van Aelst identifies two proteins that control the structure of chandelier cells, and offers insight into how they are regulated.

To study the architecture of chandelier cells, Van Aelst and colleagues first had to find a way to visualize them. Generally, scientists try to find a unique marker, a sort of molecular signature, to distinguish one type of neuron from the many others in the brain. But no markers are known for chandelier cells. So Van Aelst and Yilin Tai, Ph.D., lead author on the study, developed a way to label chandelier cells within the mouse brain.

Using this new method, the team found two proteins, DOCK7 and ErbB4, whose activity is essential in processes that give chandelier cells their striking shape. When the function of these proteins is disrupted, chandelier cells have fewer, more disorganized, axonal projections. Van Aelst and colleagues used a series of biochemical experiments to explore the relationship between the two proteins. They found that DOCK7 activates ErbB4 through a previously unknown mechanism; this activation must occur if chandelier cells are to develop their characteristic architecture.

Moving forward, Van Aelst says she is interested in exploring the relationship between structure and function of chandelier cells. “We envisage that morphological changes are likely to impact the function of chandelier cells, and consequently, alter the activity of cortical networks. We believe irregularities in these networks contribute to the cognitive abnormalities characteristic of schizophrenia and epilepsy. As we move forward, therefore, we hope that our findings will improve our understanding of these devastating neurological disorders.”

This work was supported by two grants from the National Institutes of Health.

“Regulation of Chandelier Cell Cartridge and Bouton Development via DOCK7 Mediated ErbB4 Activation” appears online in Cell Reports on January 16, 2014. The authors are: Yilin Tai, Justyna Janas, Chia-Lin Wang, and Linda Van Aelst. The paper can be obtained online at:

About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology. CSHL is ranked number one in the world by Thomson Reuters for the impact of its research in molecular biology and genetics. The Laboratory has been home to eight Nobel Prize winners. Today, CSHL's multidisciplinary scientific community is more than 600 researchers and technicians strong and its Meetings & Courses program hosts more than 12,000 scientists from around the world each year to its Long Island campus and its China center. For more information, visit

Written by: Jaclyn Jansen, Science Writer | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | 516-367-6822