Melissa Asher

Entering Class - 2013

E-MAIL: [email protected]

PhD 2022

PhD Thesis:

A functional endocannabinoid system in human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cortical cultures.

Current Position:

Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Michigan

Undergraduate Institution and Major:

Michigan State University, B.S. in Genomics and Molecular Genetics, 2012

Graduate Advisor:


Stanley Thayer, PhD


Marija Cvetanovic, Ph.D., Department of Neuroscience

Description of Graduate Research:

PhD Degree: Our lab studies the cellular mechanisms of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders (HAND), which affect up to half of HIV patients. I am investigating how inflammatory signaling from microglia can cause synapse loss in neighboring neurons, and looking for new strategies to prevent this synapse loss in HAND and other neurodegenerative diseases with a chronic inflammatory component.

Masters Degree: Our lab studied the roles of diverse cell types and non-cerebellar pathology in the neurodegenerative disease spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1). SCA1 is a dominantly inherited neurodegenerative disease which is best known for the cerebellar motor symptoms it causes, but which also includes cognitive deficits and mood disorders in many patients. My project focused on the role of Atxn1, the gene that is mutated in SCA1, and its effects on cognition and mood in mice. I found that loss and mutation of Atxn1 led to severe learning and memory deficits as well as mood abnormalities in these transgenic mice, and that only a small portion of these phenotypes could be accounted for by cerebellar pathology alone. In addition, I found that Atxn1 knockout mice had reduced hippocampal neurogenesis, which could provide an explanation for some of their learning and memory deficits.

    Graduate Publications.

    • Asher MJ, McMullan HM, Dong A, Li Y, Thayer SA. A complete endocannabinoid signaling system modulates synaptic transmission between human Induced pluripotent stem cell-derived neurons. Mol Pharmacol. 2023 Feb;103(2):100-112.
    • Asher M, Rosa JG, Cvetanovic M. Mood alterations in mouse models of Spinocerebellar Ataxia type 1. Sci Rep. 2021 Jan 12;11(1):713.
    • Asher M, Rosa JC, Rainwater O, Duvick L, Bennyworth M, Lai RY, CRC-SCA, Kuo SH, Cvetanovic M. Cerebellar contribution to the cognitive alterations in SCA1: evidence from mouse models. Hum Mol Genet. 2020;29(1):117-131.
    • Wu MM, Zhang X, Asher MJ, Thayer SA. Druggable targets of the endocannabinoid system: implications for the treatment of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorder. Brain Res. 2019 Dec 1;1724:146467.
    • Asher M, Johnson A, Zecevic B, Pease D, Cvetanovic M. Ataxin-1 regulates proliferation of hippocampal neural precursors. Neuroscience. 2016;322:54-65.

    Graduate Abstracts:

    Oral Presentations:

    • A role for ataxin-1 in cognition and neurogenesis. University of Minnesota Graduate Program in Neuroscience colloquium series, Minneapolis, MN, 2016.

    Poster Presentations:

    • Asher M, Johnson A, Cvetanovic M. A role for ataxin-1 in hippocampal neurogenesis. 2016. Sixth Ataxia Investigators Meeting, Orlando, FL.

    Graduate Awards/Honors:

    • Sping and Ying Ngoh Lin Award 

    Thesis Committee Members:

    Research Areas:

    • Neurodegenerative Diseases and Neural Injury
    • Regenerative Medicine for Neural Systems


    Graduate Program in Neuroscience Committees:

    • Career Facilitation Committee, 2017-2019

    Professional Outreach:

    • Presenter at a Social Science event at the Science Museum of Minnesota, Oct. 1, 2015
    • Brain Awareness Week Instructor, 2013-2016, 2018
    • State Fair Brain Booth Presenter, 2014

    Why did you choose University of Minnesota?

    I liked the strong sense of community among the students and also felt that there was a good selection of faculty with whom to rotate.

    Advice for Incoming Students:

    Choose an advisor you can work with even when things aren’t going well. It’s a lot easier to change parts of your project that you don’t like than to change the people you work with!