DR Jenny Gunnersen

DR Jenny Gunnersen




  • Dr Jenny Gunnersen received her BSc(Hons) in Marine Biochemistry from James Cook University in 1986 and her PhD from the University of Melbourne in 1994. In her first post-doctoral position, she worked with Michael Sendtner in Würzburg, Germany investigating trophic factors for motoneuron survival and regeneration. In 1998, Jenny was awarded an NHMRC Howard Florey Centenary Fellowship and worked with Seong-Seng Tan in the Brain Development Group at the Howard Florey Institute. During her Fellowship, Jenny utilized emerging gene expression profiling techniques to obtain the first molecular inventory of the developing cortex and produced gene knockout mouse models to determine functional roles for some of the novel genes identified. 

    In 2011, Jenny moved to the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience at the University of Melbourne as a Senior Lecturer and Head of the Neuron Development and Plasticity Laboratory. Her work, funded by the NHMRC, is focussed on:
    (i) the molecular and cellular mechanisms controlling synapse development; 
    (ii) synapse loss in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease and how this might be slowed or prevented; 
    (iii) synapse formation/strengthening and how these processes contribute to the pathology of psychostimulant abuse and neuropathic pain. 

    Funding: Dr Gunnersen’s research has been continuously funded by the NHMRC through 7 Project grants since 2005 (6 as CIA, 1 as CIB), totaling >$4.2 million. 

    Selected publications: 
    Zhu K, Xiang X, Filser S, Marinković P, Dorostkar MM, Crux S, Neumann U, Shimshek DR, Rammes G, Haass C, Lichtenthaler SF, Gunnersen JM*, Herms J* (2017) BACE1 inhibition impairs synaptic plasticity via Seizure Protein 6. Biol Psychiatry 2016 Dec 26. pii: S0006-3223(16)33157-2. Epub ahead of print. *Equal senior authors. 

    Simon CM*, Rauskolb S*, GUNNERSEN JM*, Holtmann B, Drepper C   


Selected publications


Investigator on

Additional Grant Information

  • From 1998-2008, Dr Gunnersen held an NHMRC Howard Florey Centenary Post-doctoral Research Fellowship (part-time), a Neurosciences Victoria / Centre for Neuroscience Fellowship (part-time) and a Senior Research Fellow position at the Florey Neuroscience Institutes. 

    Recent Funding:
    2016-2018: NHMRC Project Grant 1099930. A potential analgesic target in a novel clinically-relevant neuropathic pain pathway. CIA Dr Jenny Gunnersen, CIB Dr Stuart McDougall, CIC Prof Annette Dolphin. $685,811. 
    2014-2016: NHMRC Project Grant 1058672. Investigating secondary effects of a promising therapeutic strategy for Alzheimer's disease. CIA Dr Jenny Gunnersen, CIB Prof Stefan Lichtenthaler, CIC Dr Tim Aumann. $677,527. 

    2016-2017: Universities Australia-DAAD Joint Research Co-operation Scheme 
    CIA Gunnersen, CIB Lichtenthaler - Impact of new Alzheimer's drugs on essential neuronal proteins; $25,000. 
    CIA Gunnersen, CIB Sommer - A potential analgesic target in a novel chronic pain pathway; $25,000.   


Education and training

  • PhD, University of Melbourne 1994
  • BSc (Hons), James Cook University of North Queensland 1986


Available for supervision

  • Y

Supervision Statement

  • Synapse development and maintenance Our research is aimed at understanding how neurons become connected to each other to form functional circuits. We investigate the formation of neuronal dendrites (branches) and inter-neuronal connections (synapses) and how these connections change during learning. Many neurological disorders are characterized by abnormal synaptic activity, and changes in the number and strength of synaptic connections occur during learning and memory formation (termed plasticity). Knowledge of the mechanisms of dendrite and synapse development and plasticity in the healthy brain will help us decipher the aberrant molecular pathways responsible for cognitive disorders including mental retardation, epilepsy and schizophrenia. A number of projects in the lab are focussed on the roles of Seizure-related gene 6 (Sez6) protein family members. The Sez-6 family consists of three similar proteins and we have shown that they are required not only for excitatory synapse development but also for synapse maintenance in the mature brain and for aspects of learning and memory. Mutations in Sez6 proteins are associated with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disability, childhood onset schizophrenia and febrile seizures. We use a range of experimental approaches: synapses in developing neurons are fluorescently labelled using antibodies to pre- and post-synaptic markers. We perform behavioural tests of learning and memory and measure neuron morphology and electrophysiological properties of neurons in "knockout" mice. We are continuing to elucidate the functional roles of Sez6 proteins in the developing and adult brain as well as in synapse pathology in addiction and neuropathic pain. To investigate molecular interactions and signalling pathways, we use molecular biological and protein biochemical techniques.