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Richard W. Ordway

Richard W. Ordway

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Professor of Molecular Neuroscience and Genetics

606A Mueller Lab
University Park, PA 16802
Phone: (814)863-5693
Lab Address: 606 Mueller Lab
Lab Phone: (814) 865-3076


  1. Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Medical School, 1990
  2. B.A., Assumption College, 1984

Postdoc Training

  1. University of Wisconsin, 1992-1995

Research Interests

Genetic Analysis of Neural Function

Our research is focused on genetic analysis of neural function in health and disease.   This work is carried out primarily in the Drosophila genetic model system along with selected studies in mouse.  Two major objectives in our current research are to examine the molecular basis of chemical synaptic transmission and neurodegeneration.

 Chemical synaptic transmission is the primary mechanism by which electrical signals are transmitted among nerve cells (neurons).   At the synapse, chemical neurotransmitter is released from the presynaptic (transmitting) neuron and acts through receptors on the postsynaptic (receiving) cell membrane. One interesting aspect of this process is the highly regulated and rapid form of exocytosis that is responsible for neurotransmitter release.  Although the molecular mechanisms of neurotransmitter release remain incompletely understood, intensive work in the field has implicated numerous proteins. Ideally, the functions of these and additional proteins in the release process can be defined by specific perturbation of individual gene products, followed by in vivo functional analysis at native synapses. Our laboratory utilizes the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a model experimental system in which synaptic mechanisms similar to those of vertebrates may be studied in vivo, using a powerful combination of genetic, molecular, biochemical, electrophysiological, and imaging approaches. Genetic screens identify mutants defective in synaptic transmission; molecular and biochemical studies identify, characterize, and manipulate the affected proteins; and electrophysiology, fluorescence microscopy and ultrastructural methods are used to investigate the in vivo function of the protein at native synapses.  Ongoing studies involve analysis of temperature-sensitive (TS) mutants which exhibit rapid paralysis and failure of synaptic transmission when exposed to elevated temperatures.  Such conditional mutants allow normal organismal development and function at permissive temperature, while permitting acute perturbation of a specific gene product in the mature animal. These features make TS paralytic mutants a unique and powerful tool for analyzing the in vivo physiological functions of specific proteins in synaptic transmission.

 In addition to mechanisms of neurotransmitter release, our work has examined the role of perisynaptic glial cells in synaptic transmission.  Many synapses include not only presynaptic and postsynaptic elements, but also a glial cell process which contributes a third structural and functional component.  These tripartite synapses play critical roles in the nervous system and much remains to be learned about the functional contributions of glia.  Our genetic analysis of synaptic transmission has extended to a tripartite synapse model in Drosophila and the properties of participating perisynaptic glial cells.

 Neurodegeneration, or neuronal cell death, leads to prevalent and devastating neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.  Our studies have developed a new experimental model for genetic analysis of neurodegenerative mechanisms in Drosophila and include genetic screens for new mutations which suppress neurodegeneration.  Such unbiased phenotypic screening in the organism facilitates identification and in vivo analysis of gene products functioning in this process.   Ongoing studies of new mutants which are resistant to neurodegeneration may provide new insights into both the molecular basis of neurodegenerative mechanisms and the development of rational therapies to control them.

Selected Publications

Kawasaki, F., Koonce, NL, Guo, L, Fatima, S, Qiu, C, Moon, MT, Zheng, Y and RW Ordway (2016) Small heat shock proteins mediate cell-autonomous and -nonautonomous protection in a Drosophila model for environmental stress-induced degeneration. Disease Models and Mechanisms 9:953-64.
Strauss, AL, Kawasaki, F and RW Ordway (2015). A Distinct perisynaptic glial cell type forms tripartite neuromuscular synapses in the Drosophila adult. PLoS One 10:e0129957.

Kawasaki, F, Iyer, J, Posey, LL, Sun CE, Mammen, SE, Yan, H and RW Ordway (2011). The DISABLED protein functions in CLATHRIN-mediated synaptic vesicle endocytosis and exoendocytic coupling at the active zone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108:E222-9.

Danjo, R, Kawasaki, F and RW Ordway (2011). A tripartite synapse model in Drosophila. PLoS One 6: e17131.

Yu, W, Kawasaki, F and RW Ordway (2011). Activity-dependent interactions of NSF and SNAP at living synapses. Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience 47:19-27.

Kawasaki, F and RW Ordway (2009). Molecular mechanisms determining conserved properties of short-term synaptic depression revealed in NSF and SNAP-25 conditional mutants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:14658-63.

Zou, B, Yan, H, Kawasaki, F and RW Ordway (2008). MAP1 structural organization in Drosophila: in vivo analysis of FUTSCH reveals heavy- and light-chain subunits generated by proteolytic processing at a conserved cleavage site. Biochemical  Journal 414:63-71.

Wu, Y, Kawasaki, F and RW Ordway (2005). Properties of short-term synaptic depression at larval neuromuscular synapses in wild-type and temperature-sensitive paralytic mutants of Drosophila. Journal of Neurophysiology 93:2396-405.

Ordway, RW (2004). Quantal size fits central synaptic depression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 101:907-8.

Kawasaki, F, Zou, B, Xu, X and RW Ordway (2004). Active zone localization of presynaptic calcium channels encoded by the cacophony locus of Drosophila. Journal of Neuroscience 24:282-5.

Brooks, IM, Felling, R, Kawasaki, F and RW Ordway (2003). Genetic analysis of a synaptic calcium channel in Drosophila: Intragenic modifiers of a temperature-sensitive paralytic mutant of cacophony. Genetics 164:163-71.

Kawasaki, F, Collins, SC and RW Ordway (2002). Synaptic calcium-channel function in Drosophila: Analysis and transformation rescue of temperature-sensitive paralytic and lethal mutations of cacophony. Journal of Neuroscience 22:5856-64.

Kawasaki, F, Hazen, M and RW Ordway (2000) Fast synaptic fatigue in shibire mutants reveals a rapid requirement for dynamin in synaptic vesicle trafficking.  Nature Neuroscience 3:859-60.

Dellinger, B, Felling, R and RW Ordway (2000) Genetic modifiers of the Drosophila NSF mutant, comatose, include a temperature-sensitive paralytic allele of the calcium channel alpha 1-subunit gene, cacophony. Genetics 155:203-211