Rita J. Balice-Gordon, Ph.D.

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Adjunct Professor of Neuroscience
Department: Neuroscience

Contact information
Muna Therapeutics
B.A. (Biological Sciences)
Northwestern University, 1982.
Graduate (Neurobiology)
University of Chicago, 1984.
Ph.D. (Neurobiology)
University of Texas at Austin, 1987.
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Description of Research Expertise

My lab studies the cellular and molecular interactions among neurons, their targets and the surrounding glia that mediate and modulate synapse formation and function during neural development. We use neuromuscular synapses between motor neurons and muscle fibers in mice and zebrafish, and CNS synapses among hippocampal neurons in mice and rats in vitro and in vivo, as relatively simple, accessible and easily manipulated model systems. We use imaging, genetic, cellular, molecular and electrophysiological approaches in our research projects.

In collaboration with Josep Dalmau, M.D., Ph.D., and his lab, we are studying autoimmune disorders that selectively, and reversibly, affect CNS synapses. In these disorders, patient antibodies to synaptic proteins affect synapse structure and function, in turn affecting circuit function, leading to psychosis, disorders of learning and memory and other behavioral abnormalities. We are studying how patient antibodies lead to changes in synapses, circuits and behavior, in vitro as well as in animal models of these human diseases.

The overall goal of our work is to understand the rules by which the neural circuits that underlie particular behaviors become synaptically connected during neural development, what governs the plasticity of these circuits, what goes wrong with these circuits in neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative and other disorders, and how we might design and implement effective therapeutic strategies.

Description of Other Expertise

Rita Balice-Gordon, Ph.D., is the Chief Executive Officer of Muna Therapeutics, a biotech company focused on disease modifying therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. She is a Director on the Board of Collegium Pharmaceutical, a publicly traded company, and a Director on the Board of Capsida BioTherapeutics, a biotech company focused on new approaches for viral gene therapy. Rita serves on the Scientific Advisory Boards of several biotech companies. Prior to taking on these roles, Rita was the Global Head, Rare and Neurologic Diseases Research Therapeutic Area at Sanofi, Inc. for several years. She led groups scientists based in Boston and Paris working on pre-clinical and early development stage projects using small molecules, antibodies and gene therapy as modalities for innovative and transformative therapeutics for patients with lysosomal storage disorders, inborn errors of metabolism and renal and musculoskeletal diseases; Multiple Sclerosis; Parkinson’s Disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. While at Sanofi, she worked with business development colleagues to in license a BTK inhibitor, currently in Phase3 for Multiple Sclerosis, and partner with Denali to develop a RIPK1 inhibitor for MS, ALS and Alzheimer’s, currently in Phase2. Before joining Sanofi, she was Vice-President and Head of Circuits, Neurotransmitters and Signaling in Pfizer’s Neuroscience and Pain Research Unit, led the psychiatry and pain portfolios, including bringing several assets to the clinic, and was Head of the Worldwide Research and Development Postdoctoral Program at Pfizer. Prior to her career in biopharma, Rita was Professor of Neuroscience and Chair of the Neuroscience Graduate Group in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where she currently holds an appointment as Adjunct Professor. Rita and her laboratory have studied the cell-cell signaling mechanisms underlying synapse formation and maintenance, mechanisms underlying neuromuscular development and disease, and pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying autoimmune CNS disorders affecting cognition and behavior. She was continuously funded by the NIH for more than 30 years, authored more than 100 scientific papers, received several awards and honors, has given hundreds of invited research talks around the world, has chaired or served on many NIH, national and international committees, study sections, editorial boards and research organization advisory boards. Rita is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Selected Publications

Lancaster Eric, Lai Meizan, Peng Xiaoyu, Hughes Ethan, Constantinescu Radu, Raizer Jeffrey, Friedman Daniel, Skeen Mark B, Grisold Wolfgang, Kimura Akio, Ohta Kouichi, Iizuka Takahiro, Guzman Miguel, Graus Francesc, Moss Stephen J, Balice-Gordon Rita, Dalmau Josep: Antibodies to the GABA(B) receptor in limbic encephalitis with seizures: case series and characterisation of the antigen. Lancet neurology 9(1): 67-76, Jan 2010.

Hughes Ethan G, Elmariah Sarina B, Balice-Gordon Rita J: Astrocyte secreted proteins selectively increase hippocampal GABAergic axon length, branching, and synaptogenesis. Molecular and cellular neurosciences 43(1): 136-45, Jan 2010.

Moscato, E., Jain, A., Peng, X., Hughes, E. G., Dalmau, J. and Balice-Gordon, R. J. : Mechanisms of synaptic autoimmunity in disorders of memory, psychosis and cognition. Eur. J. Neuroscience. P. Scheiffele (eds.). Elsevier, 2010.

Hughes EG, Peng X, Gleichman AJ, Lai M, Zhou L, Tsou R, Parsons TD, Lynch DR, Dalmau J, Balice-Gordon RJ: Cellular and synaptic mechanisms of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. J. Neuroscience 2010.

Lai Meizan, Hughes Ethan G, Peng Xiaoyu, Zhou Lei, Gleichman Amy J, Shu Huidy, Matà Sabrina, Kremens Daniel, Vitaliani Roberta, Geschwind Michael D, Bataller Luis, Kalb Robert G, Davis Rebecca, Graus Francesc, Lynch David R, Balice-Gordon Rita, Dalmau Josep: AMPA receptor antibodies in limbic encephalitis alter synaptic receptor location. Annals of neurology 65(4): 424-34, Apr 2009.

Keene Sarah Dunn, Greco Todd M, Parastatidis Ioannis, Lee Seon-Hwa, Hughes Ethan G, Balice-Gordon Rita J, Speicher David W, Ischiropoulos Harry: Mass spectrometric and computational analysis of cytokine-induced alterations in the astrocyte secretome. Proteomics 9(3): 768-82, Feb 2009.

Song Yuanquan, Selak Mary A, Watson Corey T, Coutts Christopher, Scherer Paul C, Panzer Jessica A, Gibbs Sarah, Scott Marion O, Willer Gregory, Gregg Ronald G, Ali Declan W, Bennett Michael J, Balice-Gordon Rita J: Mechanisms underlying metabolic and neural defects in zebrafish and human multiple acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency (MADD). PloS one 4(12): e8329, 2009.

Wyatt, Ryan M. Balice-Gordon, Rita J.: Heterogeneity in synaptic vesicle release at neuromuscular synapses of mice expressing synaptopHluorin. Journal of Neuroscience 28(1): 325-35, Jan 2 2008.

Personius, Kirkwood E. Chang, Qiang. Mentis, George Z. O'Donovan, Michael J. Balice-Gordon, Rita J.: Reduced gap junctional coupling leads to uncorrelated motor neuron firing and precocious neuromuscular synapse elimination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104(28): 11808-13, Jul 10 2007.

Panzer, Jessica A. Song, Yuanquan. Balice-Gordon, Rita J.: In vivo imaging of preferential motor axon outgrowth to and synaptogenesis at prepatterned acetylcholine receptor clusters in embryonic zebrafish skeletal muscle. Journal of Neuroscience 26(3): 934-47, Jan 18 2006.

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Last updated: 03/29/2022
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