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Martha Gillette

Neuroscience Program Director
Cell and Developmental Biology Alumni Professor

Research Interests

• The neurobiology of time: circadian regulation of neuronal and glial plasticity in the hippocampal dentate gyrus and suprachiasmatic nucleus • Nanoscale processes of dendrogenesis, neural network formation/regeneration • Emergent behaviors of integrated cellular systems

Research Description


Our major research thrusts are to understand: 1) signals that engage the circadian clockwork in neurons and glia of the hippocampus and suprachiasmatic nucleus, 2) sub-cellular micro-environments that shape neuronal dendrites in development/regeneration, and 3) emergent behaviors of integrated neuronal systems. We use approaches ranging from physiology and cell biology to neuroengineering.

Regarding the neurobiology of time, consider these observations. Why do birds sing in the morning, while frogs call at night? Why are heart attacks likely to strike before dawn, while asthmatic attacks generally occur after sunset? Why do we most often feel lethargic and depressed during the short, dark days of winter, while on long, sunny summer days, we feel energetic, alert, aware? The answer to each of these questions lies in understanding the central role of the brain's clock in organizing our body functions around the major variable in the external world, the daily cycle of darkness and light.

We study circadian clocks in both the HIPPOCAMPUS and suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Cellular and local network processes mark the passage of time in near 24-hr cycles, a fundamental life component. Circadian clocks impose temporal order on cells, tissues and organs throughout the body, modulating brain and body processes over the day-night cycle. Our broad research objective is to understand how biological timing systems control integrative brain functions. Our focus is on astrocytes-neuron interactions in signaling and cell-cell interactions via peptides.

This major research thrust has important applications: Malfunctioning of the brain's circadian clock results in disorders in brain and organ function, which manifest themselves as clinical disorders of sleep, movement and neural degeneration, such as in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. The breadth of our systems-based analysis is generating insights into mechanisms that synchronize people to day and night, which is of proven importance to good health and disease-resistance. Outcomes will enhance understanding of substrates that generate long-term neural changes, with broad relevance for public health and disease prevention. They will enable strategies for ameliorating sleep, autonomic, degenerative, movement and cognitive disorders.

Studies of developing/regenerating dendrites are building upon campus excellence in molecular and cellular biology, nano-scale analytical chemistry, and bioengineering. We study signals that shape the outgrowth of neuronal protrusions that wire the nervous system. Our goal is to discover novel insights, solutions, and applications for neural repair and restoration of function through targeting critical molecules and processes that construct micro-networks during the normal wiring of the nervous system.

Regarding emergent behaviors of neuronal clusters, we are controlling microenvironments to understand and direct the sensing, integration and actuation properties of neurons and their interactions with other functional types of cellular clusters.



B.A., Grinnell College 
M.S., University of Hawaii 
Ph.D., University of Toronto


NIH 1U01MH109062 Sweedler (PI), Gillette, Bhargava 9/18/15 – 6/30/2018 BRAIN Innovation Grant: Integrated Multimodal Analysis of Cell and Circuit-Specific Processes in Hippocampal Function

NSF STC CBET 0939511 Kamm - BioE/MechE, MIT (PI) 9/15/10-9/14/2020 Science & Technology Center: Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS), with MIT & Georgia Tech and UCMerced, Morehouse College, CCNY

ABBOTT CNLM 2015-06958 Gillette (PI), Sweedler 8/16/15-12/31/2016 Diet-Modified Neuron Physiology Assessments

NSF DBI 1450962 EAGER Gillette (PI), Popescu, Rogers, Sweedler 9/01/14 – 8/31/2016 BRAIN EAGER: Multiscale Dynamics and Emergent Properties of Suprachiasmatic Circuits in Real Time

ABBOTT CNLM 2014-07443 Sweedler (PI), Gillette, Rhodes 8/15/14-7l/15/2016 Diet-Modified Brain Chemistry and Plasticity: Nutrition as a Case Study

NSF IOS 1354913 Gillette (PI) 6/15/14 – 6/14/2018 Regulation of SCN Glial Plasticity

P30 DA018310 Sweedler (PI), Gillette (Center User) 6/2009- 6/2019 NIH (NIDA) Proteomics & Technology Center Initiative Neuroproteomics Center on Cell-Cell Signaling

NSF CBET 1403660 Boppart (PI), Gillette 4/01/14 – 3/31/2017 Enhanced Optogenetic Control of Neuronal Activity with Tailored Light Stimuli

NIH R21 MH101655 Gillette (PI) 7/01/13-6/30/16 High-Resolution Analysis of miR125b in Dendrites via Microfluidic Devices


Awards and Honors

• Leader, Restorative Neuroscience Translational Research Initiative, 2008- 2014 
• Professor and Head, Dept. of Cell & Developmental/Structural Biology, 1998-2008 
• President, Society for Research on Biological Rhythms, 2006-2008 
• Women in Neuroscience Mika Salpeter Lifetime Achievement Award, 2004 
• Gordon Research Conference on Chronobiology Chair/Asso., 2001–2005 
• Outstanding Medical Scholars Program Advisor, 2002 
• Vice-President, The National Sleep Foundation, 2000-2005, 1991 
• University Scholar, 1997–2000 
• AAAS Fellow, 1995

Additional Campus Affiliations

  • Center for Advance Study Professor
  • PI, NSF NRT-UtB: Training the Next Generation of Researchers in Engineering and Deciphering of Miniature Brain Machinery
  • Co-Leader, Neurotechnology for Memory & Cognition
  • Professor of Molecular & Integrative Physiology, BioEngineering, Neuroscience Program, and The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology, Micro & NanoTechnology Lab, and Woese Institute of Genomic Biology
  • Faculty member, Beckman Institute, 2015-present 
  • Affiliate, Dept. of Bioengineering and Micro & NanoTechnology Labs, 2009-present 
  • Cell & Developmental Biology Alumni Professor, UIUC, 2004-present 
  • Past Leader of Restorative Neuroscience Initiative, Division of Biomedical Sciences    Professor and Past Head of Cell & Developmental Biology
  • Colleges of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering 


Recent Publications

Millet, L. J., Jain, A., & Gillette, M. U. (2023). Less Is More: Oligomer Extraction and Hydrothermal Annealing Increase PDMS Adhesion Forces for Materials Studies and for Biology-Focused Microfluidic Applications. Micromachines, 14(1), Article 214.

Mitchell, J. W., & Gillette, M. U. (2023). Development of circadian neurovascular function and its implications. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 17, Article 1196606.

Gillette, M. U., & Mitchell, J. W. (2022). Electrophysiology of the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus: Single-Unit Recording. In Methods in Molecular Biology (pp. 181-189). (Methods in Molecular Biology; Vol. 2482). Humana Press Inc..

Kouzehgarani, G. N., Kandel, M. E., Sakakura, M., Dupaty, J. S., Popescu, G., & Gillette, M. U. (2022). Circadian Volume Changes in Hippocampal Glia Studied by Label-Free Interferometric Imaging. Cells, 11(13), Article 2073.

Norsworthy, M. D., & Gillette, M. U. (2022). Microfluidic Devices for Analysis of Neuronal Development. In Engineering Biomaterials for Neural Applications (pp. 169-185). Springer.

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