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Meike van der Heijden

Assistant Professor
  • PhD. Baylor College of Medicine

Dr. Van der Heijden joined the School of Neuroscience faculty in 2024. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Psychobiology at the University of Amsterdam. She obtained her PhD at Baylor College of Medicine studying the development of the breathing circuitry in the brainstem. A serendipitous observation during her PhD research drew her attention to the cerebellum, which became the focus of her studies during her postdoctoral training and in her own lab. Her lab focuses on how the cerebellar functions develop in health and disease.

We study the development of cerebellar function in health and disease. Abnormal cerebellar development is associated with pediatric movement disorders, like ataxia and dystonia, and neurodevelopmental disorders, like autism spectrum disorder. We seek to understand how the healthy cerebellum contributes to the postnatal development of behaviors so that we can predict, prevent, and reverse neurodevelopmental disabilities caused by abnormal cerebellar development.

The cerebellum is one of the slowest brain regions to develop – many of its neurons are born after birth. As a result, cerebellum-dependent behaviors do not mature until later in life. These functions include motor control and neural functions less known to involve the cerebellum, like social and emotional processing, language, and cognition. Because the healthy cerebellum is important for many behaviors, developmental perturbations to the cerebellum can cause impairments in different behavioral domains.

We want to know: what cell types contribute to the development of different cerebellum-dependent behaviors? And what is wrong with the way these cells communicate with each other in disease states? By answering these questions, we aim to develop precise treatments without impairing other domains of cerebellar function.

Complete list of publications:

Selected research articles

·         Van der Heijden, ME*^, Brown, AM*, Kizek, DJ, Sillitoe, RV^. (2023) Neural spike signatures determine the behavioral presentation of cerebellar disease. Preprint on: bioRxiv. DOI:10.1101/2023.05.07.539767. Reviewed preprint in: eLife. PMID: 37214855

·         Van der Heijden, ME*, Rey Hipolito, AG*, Kim, LH, Kizek, DJ, Perez, RM, Lin, T, Sillitoe, RV. (2023) Glutamatergic cerebellar neurons differentially contribute to the acquisition of motor and social behaviors. Article in: Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-38475-9. PMID: 37188723

·         Van der Heijden, ME, Brown, AM, Sillitoe, RV. (2022) Influence of data sampling methods on the representation of neural spiking activity in vivo. Article in: iScience – DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2022.105429. PMID: 36388953

·         Van der Heijden, ME, Lackey, EP, Perez, R, Ișleyen, FS, Brown, AM, Lin, T, Zoghbi, HY, Sillitoe, RV (2021). Maturation of Purkinje cell firing properties relies on neurogenesis of excitatory neurons. Article in: eLife – DOI:10.7554/eLife.68045. PMID: 34542409

eLife Digest:

·         Van der Heijden, ME, Kizek, DJ, Perez, R, Ruff, EK, Ehrlich, ME, Sillitoe, RV (2021). Abnormal cerebellar function and tremor in a mouse model for non-manifesting DYT6. Article in: Journal of Physiology DOI: 10.1113/JP280978. PMID: 33369735 #Cover image

Selected reviews

·         Van der Heijden, ME^, Sillitoe, RV^. Cerebellar dysfunction in rodent models with dystonia, tremor, and ataxia. (2023). Review in: Dystonia. DOI: 10.3389/dyst.2023.11515

·         Van der Heijden, ME^, Gill, JS, Sillitoe, RV^ (2021) Abnormal cerebellar development in autism spectrum disorders. Review in: Developmental Neuroscience – DOI: 10.1159/000515189. PMID: 33823515

Van der Heijden, ME,  Sillitoe, RV (2021) Interactions between Purkinje cells and granule cells coordinate the development of functional cerebellar circuits. Review in: Neuroscience – DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2020.06.010. PMID: 32554107