The department of biology hosted Seth Margolis, an associate professor of biological chemistry at Johns Hopkins University, at an Oct. 12 seminar to discuss his research on special enzymes in nerve cells.
Margolis’ talk, “The Neuronal Membrane Proteasome (NMP): A Modulator of Nervous System Signaling,” highlighted his neurobiology research as part of the department’s weekly seminar series. The department of biology invites a new scholar every week to present their research within their seminar series, and a Georgetown faculty member well-versed in the area of research hosts each seminar.
Margolis’s work shows how proteasomes — complex collections of enzymes that break down proteins in the cell — have unique functions in the cell membrane of neurons. Margolis’ team of scientists discovered that neural proteasomes, unlike proteasomes in other types of cells, help the brain learn new information and store memories.
“We started to learn that in neurons, the proteasomes were unique. They weren’t just in the cytosol or the nucleus and localized in different places as people had seen in other systems, but also in the plasma membrane,” Margolis told The Hoya. “We believe they’re working in the neuron to modulate neural interactions in an important way that was previously missed.”
Haiyan He, an assistant professor of biology at Georgetown, hosted the seminar, as both she and Margolis specialize in neurobiology research. He said that scientists at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown are working to uncover the role of the neuronal membrane proteasome in changing memory and nerve stimulation, or neuroplasticity.
“Our data highly suggests NMPs play a really unique and specific role in learning-induced plasticity,” Margolis told the Hoya. “They are specifically required for those events that will potentially be generating changes within the neural circuit.”
He believes that the proteasomes in the neuronal membrane play a regulatory role in response to protein production because excess proteins can be harmful for nerve cells. His laboratory theorizes that proteins made during neuroplasticity-inducing events are broken down by the proteasomes in neurons, ensuring the survival of the cell.
“NMPs tend to degrade proteins that are made specifically in response to plasticity-inducing activities,” He said. “We think the reason that the neurons are making new proteins and degrading them right away and wasting energy is probably a way for neurons to make sure they don’t make too many of those proteins.”
Meghan Bullard (GRD ’26), a biology graduate student at Georgetown who attended the seminar, said that Margolis’ research is an innovative development in the field of neuroscience, since research on the role of proteasomes in the nervous system has not been extensive.
“I thought that Dr. Margolis is a great speaker and represented the data really well. It was super interesting,” Bullard told The Hoya. “Margolis’s research is looking at protein degradation specifically within the nervous system.”
Bullard said that Margolis’s research will help scientists address certain neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
“We know that issues with protein degradation are implicated in lots of neural disorders,” Bullard said. “The impact of the Margolis lab’s findings is furthering the understanding of these complex diseases and translational research can build off the backbone of this type of research.”
Margolis highlighted the novel aspects of his study, as previous neurobiology research overlooked the role of the proteasome in nerve cells. Margolis used his new study as an example for Georgetown students that in all scientific fields, there is still room for them to contribute new discoveries.
“This is a study that should stimulate one’s enthusiasm for the possibility that there is still so much more that is left to be understood,” Margolis said.
According to Margolis, the future of scientific research at Georgetown and elsewhere is in good hands.“The future is still very bright and exciting,” Margolis said. “If given the equity and quality of education the next generation would need to venture into the unknown, humanity has a lot of possibilities.”