First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Agostina Di Pizio is first author on ‘ A conditional null allele of Dync1h1 enables targeted analyses of dynein roles in neuronal length sensing’, published in JCS. Agostina is a PhD student in the lab of Prof. Mike Fainzilber at Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel, investigating neuronal growth and regeneration.

Agostina Di Pizio

How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?

The nervous system is a complex but highly organized system that coordinates all the activities of our body. To do this, neurons must extend their axons over long distances and reach their targets. Thus, the study of size and growth control is of particular importance for this type of cells. We previously proposed a role for the motor protein dynein in the regulation of neuronal growth. Here, we present a new mouse model that allows the selective deletion of the main dynein motor subunit, thereby enabling the study of mouse sensory neurons with half of the normal levels of dynein. We found that these mutant sensory neurons have accelerated growth and that adult mutants have deficits in motor and spatial sensation coordination, with delays in recovery from peripheral nerve injury. This new mouse model enables specific validation of dynein motor roles in neuronal growth control, and will facilitate comprehensive studies of the physiological roles of dynein.

Were there any specific challenges associated with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge I had to face is that most of the experiments were carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic. Owing to lockdowns and restrictions, planning experiments became very complicated. However, at the same time, the enthusiasm and curiosity for this project helped me to keep myself motivated during such a hard period.

Why did you choose Journal of Cell Science for your paper?

We were looking for a high-quality journal with a rigorous peer review process. JCS publishes excellent papers covering a wide range of topics in the fields of cell biology and molecular biology. This was my first experience in publishing as first author, and I really appreciated how smooth and neat the publication process was.

The image shows a mouse dorsal root ganglion neuron grown in culture for 48 hours and stained with NFH antibody (cyan).

The image shows a mouse dorsal root ganglion neuron grown in culture for 48 hours and stained with NFH antibody (cyan).

Have you had any significant mentors who have helped you beyond supervision in the lab? How was their guidance special?

I must thank all my lab mates for their support and advice, but my special thanks go to Dr Ida Rishal and my supervisor, Prof. Mike Fainzilber for their constant support of my scientific growth and for helping me bring this paper to light.

What motivated you to pursue a career in science, and what have been the most interesting moments on the path that led you to where you are now?

My career in science started a bit by chance. I have a background in pharmacy and, during my bachelor studies, I joined the lab of Prof. Mike Fainzilber for a short period, as a visiting student. During that period, I worked under the supervision of Prof. Marco Terenzio, a former postdoc in the lab and now group leader at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan. I could say that was my ‘eureka’ moment. I understood that science, and in particular neurobiology, fascinated me and that I wanted to continue this path.

What's next for you?

I am about to finish my PhD program at the Weizmann Institute of Science and I am planning to continue my studies as a postdoc.

Agostina Di Pizio's contact details: Weizmann Institute of Science, 234 Herzl St, Rehovot, Israel.

E-mail: agostina.di-pizio@weizmann.ac.il

Di Pizio
,
A.
,
Marvaldi
,
L.
,
Birling
,
M.-C.
,
Okladnikov
,
N.
,
Dupuis
,
L.
,
Fainzilber
,
M.
and
Rishal
,
I.
(
2023
).
A conditional null allele of Dync1h1 enables targeted analyses of dynein roles in neuronal length sensing
.
J. Cell Sci.
136
,
jcs260220
.