Dr Aiste Steponenaite
Dr. Aiste Steponenaite has completed her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the Medway School of Pharmacy, University of Kent in 2019. Her Ph.D. project, conducted in collaboration with the University of Oxford, focused on investigating the contribution of the leak two-pore domain potassium channel, TRESK, in regulating behavioral and molecular circadian rhythms.
Following the completion of her Ph.D., Dr. Steponenaite held a postdoctoral position, during which she and Prof. Lall received Leverhulme Grant funding for a project exploring the aging of the circadian clock.
In 2023 Aiste joined the Medway School of Pharmacy as a lecturer in Biological Sciences.
Aiste's research revolves around the intricate relationship between circadian rhythms and health. Her Ph.D. project investigated the role of the leak potassium channel TRESK in regulating behavioral and molecular circadian rhythms. Notably, her work on TRESK highlighted its significance as a key regulator of nocturnal suprachiasmatic nucleus dynamics and light adaptive responses, leading to its publication in Nature Communications (Lalic et al., 2020).
Currently, Aiste is focused on studying the impact of aging on circadian rhythms and its influence on the circadian system. Robust physiological circadian rhythms are essential for overall well-being. The aging process has been found to negatively affect the systems that drive circadian physiology, often resulting in symptoms associated with abnormal or disrupted sleep patterns. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), located in the brain, plays a crucial role in regulating and establishing behavioral and physiological rhythms in mammals, primarily relying on the natural day-night cycle as a timing cue. However, as individuals age, SCN function declines, leading to changes in sleep patterns, diminished ability to adjust to light (entrainment), and overall impact on well-being. One notable structural change observed is in the glutamate NMDA receptor, responsible for transmitting light signals by releasing glutamate into SCN neurons, informing the molecular clock about the presence of light. Aiste's current research aims to gain a deeper understanding of how aging alters the internal workings of the circadian clock, the involvement of various components and genes, especially NMDA subunit changes, and the identification of therapeutic targets that can mitigate age-associated circadian decline, ultimately improving health and well-being.
In addition to her research on circadian rhythms, Aiste is actively engaged in a multinational project with the Australian Sleep Health Foundation. This project focuses on examining the effects of daylight saving time on health. The ultimate goal is to provide policy-makers with valuable insights into the negative health effects associated with bi-annual time changes and advocate for the implementation of new laws to address these issues.
Committees: Early Career Researcher (ECR) representative for the NATS division on the Kent REF Steering Group.
Chronobiology Gordon Research Seminar, 22-23 June 2019, and Chronobiology Gordon Research Conference, 23-28 June, Barcelona. Poster presentation: “The role of TRESK two-pore potassium (K2P) channels in the suprachiasmatic nucleus”
FENS regional meeting 2019 – Belgrade, Serbia. Poster presentation: The role of TASK-3 two-pore potassium (K2P) channel in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and behaviour