Welcome: Dr. Beverly Piggott

Image of Dr. Beverly Piggott

Dr. Beverly Piggott recently joined the neuroscience faculty at UM. Below is a brief Q & A to help you get to know Dr. Piggott. Please help us in welcoming Dr. Piggott to the CBSD community!

Please briefly describe your research focus:

My research seeks to understand the influence of ion fluxes or bioelectricity on brain development and brain tumor models. It’s long been appreciated that ion channels, which generate bioelectricity, drive neuronal firing and communication. Recently, it has become apparent that ion channels also play important roles in actively dividing cells in normal development and disease. My research takes advantage of the well characterized Drosophila (fruit fly) developing nervous system. This genetic model has informed the understanding of fundamental properties involved in building a brain. Therefore, flies provide a great platform to ask novel questions about bioelectricity in brain growth and disease in a well described model.

My work focuses on understanding the role of voltage-gated sodium channels (VGSC) in brain development. VGSC are well known for their ability to make neurons fire, but much less is known about whether they are involved in neural progenitors, the cells that create neurons. In our recent study, we found that loss of VGSC impairs brain development, leading to the generation of fewer cells and increased cell death.

Previous work has demonstrated that VGSC are increased in some cancers. Interestingly, we found that reducing expression of VGSC in three different brain tumor models led to brain tumor suppression. Together this indicates that VGSC are important for both normal brain growth and tumor expansion. My future studies will explore the mechanisms by which VGSC influence brain development and tumors. The importance of this work is highlighted by the fact that ion channels, like VGSC, are very druggable targets. Thus, defining the actions of ion channels in proliferative processes could lend itself towards the development of future treatments for cancer, developmental disorders and regeneration.

Tell us a little about yourself, your hobbies and why you chose Missoula:

I grew up in rural Wisconsin and have long had a passion for science and exploring the natural environment. Floating down rivers has been a highlight during both my undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and graduate studies at the University of Michigan, so moving to Missoula feels like coming home! Before moving here, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California in San Francisco. In California, I learned what it’s like to hike challenging terrain, followed by great food and craft beer, a tradition I hope to continue in Montana.

Scientifically, I have transitioned from studying neural connections and behavior to investigating the electrical activities of stem cells. During my interview at UM, I was impressed by the breadth of research at the University and the engaging nature of the faculty and students. It felt like a place where I could be fully supported as I grow my research program.

My favorite way to unwind is be active, outside, in nature. This can be a morning run, weekend hike or through some kind of team sport. Missoula, lends itself perfectly towards this disposition. I’m still getting used to the elevation, being previously at sea level, but am up for the challenge!

Below is a citation for one of Dr. Piggott’s recent manuscripts if you would like to learn more about her work:

Piggott BJ, Peters CJ, He Y, Huang X, Younger S, Jan LY, Jan YN. Paralytic, the Drosophila voltage-gated sodium channel, regulates proliferation of neural progenitors. Genes Dev. 2019 Dec 1;33(23-24):1739-1750. doi: 10.1101/gad.330597.119. Epub 2019 Nov 21. PMID: 31753914