Arpiar Saunders earned his B.A. in biology and linguistics from Swarthmore College in 2006. He researched wildflower genomes at the University of Montana before moving to Harvard Medical School for doctoral and postdoctoral training. At Harvard, Saunders earned his Ph.D. in neuroscience in the lab of Bernardo Sabatini, studying the synaptic organization of the mouse brain. As a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow in Steve McCarroll’s lab, he used single-cell genomics to describe molecular diversity of brain cells. Saunders joined the Vollum Institute at Oregon Health & Sciences University as an assistant professor in 2020.
The Saunders’ lab develops and applies single-cell, single-virion genomic technologies to chart the cellular and synaptic organization of neural circuits. Saunders and his colleagues are especially interested in learning how genetic variation shapes the mammalian brain. To begin to address this goal, they are studying and engineering neurotropic viruses whose properties of infection can teach us about how the brain is organized. The team uses molecular “barcoding” and single-cell genomic measurements to track RNAs derived from individual viruses alongside genome-wide molecular profiles from host cells.
One example of a virus-based technology that Saunders and his team recently developed relies on the synaptic spread of rabies virus from the dendrites of one neuron to the axons of many presynaptic partner cells. The group’s barcoded rabies system called “SBARRO” (Synaptic Barcode Analysis by Retrograde Rabies ReadOut) enables synaptic connectivity relationships to be reconstructed in high-throughput from thousands of cells using single-cell RNA-seq analysis (Saunders et al., bioRxiv, 2021). Saunders’ lab also strives to answer basic questions concerning the molecular mechanisms through which viruses and diverse brain cells interact.