Maria A. Serrat, Ph.D.

Maria Serrat, Ph.D.Assistant Professor
Department: Anatomy and Pathology
Research Cluster: Neuroscience and Developmental Biology
Offices: BBSC 301L, MEB 207 | Laboratory: MEB 206
Phone: (304) 696-7392

Research Interests

Ambient temperature and physical activity have a surprising impact on bone length, but it is unclear how such common variables regulate growth of the postnatal skeleton. We study environmental inputs on bone elongation in growth plates, the regions of cartilage where bone lengthening occurs. Our long-term goal is to identify the physiological mechanisms underlying temperature- and exercise- enhanced bone elongation in the growth plate, with the intent of finding new ways to potentially treat growth impediments in children. We employ whole animal and bone culture models to test specific hypotheses about environmental effects on the growth plate matrix, its vasculature, and nutrient supply. We use a variety of tools such as live animal imaging; histology and immunostaining; fluorochrome bone labeling; micro-CT analysis; and fluorescent microsphere blood flow assays. Our research is important for an evolutionary understanding of limb length variation among mammals in different environments and may aid in developing more effective treatments for childhood growth disorders.

Laboratory Projects

Imaging skeletal growth plates using in vivo multiphoton microscopy

Multiphoton microscopy is an emerging technology for live animal imaging that offers exciting possibilities for the study of growth plate dynamics in vivo. We have worked for the past year with collaborators at Cornell University to establish a platform for imaging intact skeletal growth plates. We are now using this method to assess how systemic regulators arrive at and move within the cartilage matrix of the growth plate under various experimental conditions. This system provides a new mechanism for understanding the physiological regulation of bone growth through the ability to dynamically measure changes in solute delivery to the growth plate of a living animal.

Determining how temperature alters cartilage growth in vitro

The objective of this study is to determine how temperature modulates bone elongation using an established bone culture model. We grow intact metatarsal bones from neonatal mice in vitro to isolate local effects of temperature on the growth plate, since this system is largely free of systemic inputs. Analysis by multiphoton microscopy enables visualization of intact growth plate cartilage, which can be manipulated and assessed in real time. Cell morphology and protein expression are evaluated using standard histology and immunohistochemistry on fixed preps and whole mount samples.

Selected Publications

Serrat MA, Williams RM, Farnum CE. Exercise mitigates the stunting effect of cold temperature on limb elongation in mice by increasing solute delivery to the growth plate. Journal of Applied Physiology. 109: 1869-79. 2010. This paper used in vivo multiphoton microscopy to image growth plate cartilage with collaborators at Cornell University.

Serrat MA. Measuring bone blood supply in mice using fluorescent microspheres. Nature Protocols. 4(12): 1749-58. 2009. Single-author paper utilizing techniques developed by Dr. Serrat while she was a student at Kent State University.

Laboratory Personnel

Gabriela Ion, Ph.D. – Research Instructor, Department of Anatomy and Pathology
Holly Tamski – Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. student