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Research Focus

Our lab studies the molecular mechanisms that underlie the formation of neural circuits, specifically studying the role of adhesion proteins in synapse formation and circuit development in oligodendrocytes and neurons in the forebrain.

We study this at several levels: 

Proliferation, migration, and differentiation of oligodendrocytes

Synapse Development

Circuit Formation 


We value intellectual curiosity, creativity, and social justice

Research Overview

Oligodendrocytes myelinate neuronal axons to modulate the speed and timing of neuronal activity. This process is dynamic throughout life, but the bulk of synapse formation in neurons and myelination of axons by oligodendrocytes occurs in early postnatal development in mice and humans. Oligodendrocyte Precursor Cells (OPCs) divide throughout adult life, producing new oligodendrocytes that can remyelinate axons after injury and as a mechanism of plasticity. Aberrant myelination is implicated in developmental and mood disorders such as Autism Spectrum disorder and Schizophrenia as well as depression and bipolar disorder, and it is a key feature of white matter diseases including Multiple Sclerosis and leukodystrophy. Understanding the mechanisms by which oligodendrocytes myelinate axons has the potential to inform treatment for numerous psychiatric and neurological diseases and disorders. Our lab and many others have shown that neuronal activity is instructive for OPC development and myelination. We have also found that pathological neuronal activity from seizures leads to changes in OPC proliferation and differentiation, synaptic connectivity, and myelination. Currently, we are examining Neuroligin synaptic proteins and their role in regulating neuron to OPC synapse formation, OPC development, and myelination​.

Laura Rig Grass Lab Pic

Laura Cocas, PhD

Dr. Cocas is a developmental neurobiologist. She completed her bachelors degree in Neuroscience and Pscyhology at Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. She conducted research in the Memory and Aging Institute, with Dr. Leah Light, in the Claremont Infant Study Center, with Dr. David Moore, in The Ruth and Lee Munroe Laboratory for Cross-Cultural Research, with Dr. Lee Munroe, and in the Lanterman Regional Center, with Dr. Gary Galbraith. As a graduate student, she completed a summer research internship in the lab of Dr. Andrew Lumsden at the MRC Centre for Developmental Neurobiology in Kings College, London. She completed a Ph.D. in Neuroscience in the Corbin Lab in the Georgetown University Department of Neuroscience,  conducting research there and at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC. She studied the genetic regulation of cell fate in the basal forebrain. She found that differential gene expression was critical for patterning boundary domains in the developing forebrain. She was a student in the Neurobiology Course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA in 2009. She was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study synapse formation using viral circuit tracing in the Cell Biology Department at the University of Basel, Switzerland in lab of Dr. Peter Scheiffele. As a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF in the Department of Neurology, she worked in Dr. Samuel Pleasure's Lab to develop new viral tools to probe cortical circuits and neural glial connections. She found a novel developmentally regulated connection between Cajal Retzius cells and developing cortical neurons. She also taught Intro Biology, Human Biology, and Evolution courses at Cal State University, East Bay, an HSI in Hayward, CA. She taught Cellular/Molecular Neurobiology, Neurophysiology, Neuroanatomy, and Developmental Neurobiology courses at Cal State University, Los Angeles, an HSI in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. She joined the Biology faculty at SCU in 2017. She returned to the MBL as a Grass Fellow, where she used patch clamp electrophysiology in brain slices to study the role of neuroligins in neuronal to OPC synapses and myelination. She was the Associate Director of the Grass Fellowship Program at the MBL in 2021 and 2022. Her lab at SCU is focused on synapse formation and myelination in the developing murine forebrain, and the development and evolution of glial diversity in the cephalopod brain. She teaches Intro Biology, Neurobiology, Developmental Neurobiology, Biology Project Lab (A CURE), and the Neuroscience Capstone at SCU. She is the faculty advisor for SACNAS @ SCU, a course instructor for the First Gen SCU LEAD program, and she works with local schools to bring neuroscience to the classrooms of BIPOC Bay Area students. She has been funded by the NINDS, and was previously a UC President's Postdoctoral Fellow, a National Heart Association Fellow, a Fulbright Fellow, and a NINDS predoctoral Kirschstein NRSA fellow. She is a First Gen scientist. She grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Her ancestors are from Greece, Mexico, and the UK.

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To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I confess, absurd in the highest degree...The difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection , though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered subversive of the theory.

Charles Darwin

Like the entomologist in search of colorful butterflies, my attention has chased in the gardens of the grey matter cells with delicate and elegant shapes, the mysterious butterflies of the soul, whose beating of wings may one day reveal to us the secrets of the mind.

-Santiago Ramon y Cajal

To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.

-bell hooks

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