Ellisman, Mark

Dr. Ellisman is a Distinguished Professor of Neurosciences at the UCSD School of Medicine, joining the Department of Neurosciences in 1977. Trained in neurophysiology as well as molecular and cellular biology, he began his career working on ion channels, progressing to build a broad research program on molecular structure and function of neurons and glia, in both health and disease. With his close colleague Roger Y. Tsien he developed probe systems for correlated light and electron microscopy, enabling studies of the dynamics of the nervous system across spatial and temporal scales, tools used by many to advance understanding of complex biological processes. In 1988 he created the National Center for Microscopy and Imaging Research (NCMIR), an internationally acclaimed technology development center and shared research resource supported by the NIH. His scientific contributions include development of 3D EM, allowing the first descriptions of the neuronal cytoskeleton and mapping of the neurons internal membrane systems, that astrocytes do not overlap their domains and the surprise finding of “transmitophagy” – establishing that neurons outsource mitophagy to neighboring astrocytes. He and his team conceived and implemented advanced light and electron microscope designs; including the invention of direct electron detection cameras for EM, which now propel CryoEM as a structural biology tool. While studying with Keith R. Porter in the early 1970’s, Ellisman imagined that advances in microscopy methods would enable direct observation and quantification of the molecular constituents that underlie cell biological processes, such as ion channels, neurotransmitter receptors and synaptic plasticity. Over the next 4 decades he and his group at UCSD proceeded to develop and disseminate methods to directly visualize molecular architecture at synapses, biochemically characterize, visualize and localize voltage-gated channels, describe new Ca-activated Ca channels of the ER in heart and brain as well as determine the 3D form, composition and connected nature of the entire neuronal internal membrane system. Recent application of these methods with Salk colleagues allowed determination of the higher order structure of chromatin in situ. Current activities focus on basic mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative disease processes, where data obtained by the use of new probes and advanced multiscale and multimodal imaging can be expected to provide important new understanding.