Sarah Kucenas

Professor of Biology; Director, Program in Fundamental Neuroscience; Co-Director of the Brain Institute
Gilmer 424
(434) 982-5436
Lab: (434) 243-2541


  • B.S., Valparaiso University, 2000
  • Ph.D., Saint Louis University, 2005
  • Postdoctoral, Vanderbilt University, 2005-2009

Research Interests

The long-term goal of my research program is to elucidate the roles of peripheral and central glia and glial-glial interactions during PNS development, maintenance and disease/injury. Using Danio rerio (zebrafish) as a model system (and to a lesser extent, mouse), my lab combines genetic and pharmacological perturbation, single cell manipulation, laser ablation/axotomy and in vivo, time-lapse imaging to directly and continuously observe glial cell origins, behaviors and interactions in an intact vertebrate. The vast majority of research investigating the development and regeneration of the PNS has focused on axons and their closely associated glia, known as Schwann cells. However, peripheral nerves are composed of at least six main elements, all of which are required for the efficient function of the nervous system, but some of which are virtually ignored (for example, perineurial glia and motor exit point (MEP) glia).

In my lab, we study perineurial glia, the cells that make up the mature motor nerve perineurium, and development of the motor exit point (MEP) transition zone (TZ). Previously, it was thought that the CNS and PNS were two distinct halves of the same organ system that were connected only by motor or sensory axons. However, work from my post-doctoral fellowship and now from my own lab, clearly reveal that glial cells are highly dynamic and migratory at nervous system TZs and we have uncovered intriguing new biology at these specialized locations in the nervous system that is a large focus in my lab. Currently, we have 5 main projects in my lab (but I’m always open to expanding that list!):

1. Development of the Motor Exit Point (MEP) Transition Zone (TZ)

2. Characterization of a novel, CNS-derived peripheral glial population, MEP glia, and their role in MEP TZ dynamics

3. Perineurial-peripheral myelinating glial interactions during development and regeneration

4. The role of perineurial glia in degeneration and subsequent regeneration

5. A Neurogenic component to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy


Representative Publications

  • Fontenas, L. & Kucenas, S. Glial Cell Development. Reference Module in Life Sciences. (In press).
  • Johnson, K., Barragan, J., Bashiruddin, S., Smith, C.J., Tyrrell, C., Parsons, M.J., Doris, R., Kucenas, S., Downes, G.B., Velez, C., Sakai, C., Pathak, N., Anderson, K., Stein, R., Devoto, S.H., Mumm, J.H., Barresi, M.J.F. (2016). Gfap-positive radial glial cells are an essential progenitor population for later born neurons and glia in the zebrafish spinal cord. Glia, 64(7):1170-89. doi: 10.1002/glia.22990.
  • Smith C.J., Johnson, K., Welsh, T.G., Barresi, M.J.F., Kucenas, S. (2016). Radial glia inhibit peripheral glial infiltration into the spinal cord at motor exit point transition zones. Glia, 64(7):1138-53. doi: 10.1002/glia.22987.
  • Wheeler, M.A., Smith, C.J., Ottolini, M., Barker, B., Purohit, A.M., Grippo, R.M., Gaykema, R.P., Spano, A.J., Beenhakker, M.P., Kucenas, S., Patel, M.K., Deppmann, C.D., Güler, A.D. (2016). Genetically targeted magnetic control of the nervous system. Nature Neuroscience, 19(5):756-61. 
For a comprehensive list of Dr. Kucenas' publications, please click here.