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Research spotlight

October 2019

Amy Brewster is an associate professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences of the College of Health and Human Sciences.

1. What is your educational background?

I received a B.S. degree in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico-Cayey, a Ph.D. in Biology/Neuroscience from University of California-Irvine, and postdoctoral training at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, TX.

2. What kind of research do you do?

My research program seeks to identify novel therapeutic targets for drug-resistant epilepsy and its cognitive comorbidities. Currently, one third of epileptic patients suffer from drug-resistant seizures and severe cognitive comorbidities. This pathophysiology is exacerbated by brain injury and neuroinflammation provoked by prolonged and continuous seizures (status epilepticus; SE). A single episode of SE triggers pathological changes in the morphology, biochemistry, and physiology of hippocampal neurons that parallel neuronal hyperexcitability, unprovoked seizures, and hippocampal-dependent learning and memory deficits.

It is widely known that m­­icroglia-mediated neuroinflammation plays a role in the SE-triggered construction of epileptic networks. However, little is known regarding the contribution of phagocytic signaling to the neuropathology and pathophysiology of epilepsy. Our research goal is to identify whether neuro-immune interactions guided by phagocytic signaling molecules contribute to the construction of hyperexcitable neuronal networks that may promote seizures and cognitive deficits in epilepsy.

We seek to determine the role that microglial inflammatory and phagocytic signaling mediated by the classical complement cascade (C1q-C3), Triggering receptors expressed on myeloid cells (Trem2), Colony stimulating factor 1 receptor (CSFR1), and the mechanistic target of Rapamycin (mTOR) (Diagram 1), play in pathological synaptodendritic remodeling, seizures, and cognitive deficits in experimental models of epilepsy. Through our scientific discoveries we seek to help stop seizures and improve cognitive outcomes in those affected by severe epilepsy.

3. How long have you been doing this research?

Since I started my Ph.D. in 2000, my research has been focused on identifying and understanding molecular mechanisms driving neuronal hyperexcitability in the hippocampus using experimental models of epilepsy.

4. What is the big-picture view of your work – for instance, how could your findings help improve the quality of life around the world?

The goal is that our research and findings will lead to the identification of novel therapeutic targets that may lead to the development of efficient treatments for epileptic patients with drug-resistant seizures.

5. What do you find most rewarding about the work you do?

I find that training a new generation of enthusiastic, passionate, and diverse scientists rewarding because one day they will find the cure for neurological disorders in the future. 

6. Did you intend, when you were working on your degree(s), to do this kind of work? If not, how did you arrive at this place in your career?

I followed the science. With every unexpected finding I became intrigued as to why and how that happened. My own independent research program was driven by an unexpected observation during my postdoctoral training that a “cancer” drug had on suppressing microglial proliferation in experimental epilepsy (Brewster et al., 2013). 

7. Which Life Sciences institute(s) are you affiliated with?

I am affiliated with PIIN and PI4D.

8. How has the Purdue Life Sciences Initiative positively impacted your research?

Purdue Life Sciences has provided excellent networking, funding support, and great training opportunities for our students.

9. What are some fun facts we should know about you?

I am passionate about traveling to new countries/cities along with talking to people and hearing their fantastic stories. Everyone has a story to tell. I also like CrossFit training, and as such I do talk about that a lot! 

Spotlight archives

September 2019
August 2019


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