Gabrielle Zuniga, Ph.D.
Gabbe Zuniga completed her PhD in the lab of Bess Frost, PhD in the spring of 2022. As a student in the South Texas Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD Program), Gabbe has transitioned back to medical school for her final two years of clinical training before an anticipated MD graduation of May 2024. Gabbe's graduate research investigated the role of nonsense-mediated RNA decay in the context of neurodegenerative diseases using fly models in parallel with human studies using post-mortem brain tissue, CSF and plasma from patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related tauopathies.
I was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to a DDS/PhD and DDS, and was raised as a tar heel and to value education and hard work. While I played competitive soccer and competed on the equestrian cycle throughout my childhood, an injury turned my focus toward science and medicine. I attended the University of Texas at Austin from 2011 to 2015, where I majored in Biology. I was an honors student in the Dean’s Scholars and Polymathic Scholars Honors programs, and I joined the laboratory of Dr. Jon Pierce, and worked on characterizing a transgenic C. elegans Alzheimer’s disease model. During this time, I also worked in 3 different labs, in 3 different institutes, and in 2 different countries, and I graduated as a Distinguished College Scholar (top 4%). I also managed to have a lot of fun in Austin, travel, be a part of a sorority, mentor students, work multiple jobs, and meet my husband. I joined the STX MSTP at UTHSA in 2015. My husband joined me in San Antonio in 2016 where we bought our first house in Bulverde with 5 acres. We now have three homes in San Antonio, two of which we rent out so my husband can retire early and we can benefit from the passive income, hopefully. After clinic/lab, I spend most of my time running after my two year old, McCrae, and our two derpy dogs, Gus & Newt. And we are adding to the chaos in November, when we become a family of 6.
Running, hiking, biking (anything outdoorsy), going to the zoo/pool, crafting & art
Tauopathy, neurodegeneration, RNA, nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, translation
Why I chose MD/PhD
My intense curiosity and craving for knowledge was why I chose MD/PhD. I wanted to pursue a MD/PhD degree so that I could be competitive for a full-time, tenure track academic position where I can combine my research training, medical training, and clinical experiences toward the development of new therapeutic techniques.
Why I chose MD/PhD at UT Health San Antonio
I chose MD/PhD at UT Health San Antonio because of the excellent leadership, immense diversity, and highly collaborative nature of the science and medicine at UTHSA. I was excited by the team work mentality, open sharing policies, and emphasis on responsible mentoring, teaching, and education.
Mahoney, R., Ochoa Thomas, E., Ramirez, P., Miller, H. E., Beckmann, A., Zuniga, G., … Frost, B. (2020). Pathogenic Tau Causes a Toxic Depletion of Nuclear Calcium. Cell Reports, 32(2), 107900. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2020.107900
Ochoa Thomas, E., Zuniga, G., Sun, W., & Frost, B. (2020, April 1). Awakening the dark side: retrotransposon activation in neurodegenerative disorders. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, Vol. 61, pp. 65–72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.conb.2020.01.012
Pilot Study to Investigate the Safety and Feasibility of AntiRetroviral Therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease - Full Text View - ClinicalTrials.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2020, from https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04552795
Ramirez, P., Zuniga, G., Sun, W., Beckmann, A., Ochoa, E., DeVos, S. L., … Frost, B. (2021). Pathogenic tau accelerates aging-associated activation of transposable elements in the mouse central nervous system. Progress in Neurobiology, 102181. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.PNEUROBIO.2021.102181
Yi, B., Sahn, J. J., Ardestani, P. M., Evans, A. K., Scott, L. L., Chan, J. Z., Iyer, S., Crisp, A., Zuniga, G., Pierce-Shimomura, J., Martin, S.F., Shamloo, M. (2017). Small molecule modulator of sigma 2 receptor is neuroprotective and reduces cognitive deficits and neuroinflammation in experimental models of Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neurochemistry, 140(4), 561–575. https://doi.org/10.1111/jnc.13917
Zuniga, G., Levy, S., Ramirez, P., Mange, J. De, Gonzalez, E., Gamez, M., & Frost, B. (2022). Tau-induced deficits in nonsense-mediated mRNA decay contribute to neurodegeneration. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. https://doi.org/10.1002/ALZ.12653
B.S., Biology, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Integrated Biomedical Sciences: Neuroscience, UT Health San Antonio, 2022
Dissertation Title: "Tau-induced deficits in nonsense-mediated mRNA decay contribute to neurodegeneration." Defended on May 18, 2022.
2022-2023 - T32 Training Grant STX-MSTP - UT Health San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
2017-2018 – T32 Training Grant in Neuroscience – UTHealth San Antonio, San Antonio, TX.
2016-2017 – George Brackenridge MD/PhD Scholar – UTHealth San Antonio, San Antonio, TX.
2015 – Dean’s Honored Graduate – UT – Austin, TX. 2015 – Plenary Speaker Award and Travel Scholarship – NCRC Harvard University – Cambridge, MA.
2014-2015 – Sembradores de Amistad Club Endowed Presidential Scholar – UT – Austin, TX. 2013-2014 – College of Natural Science Book Award – UT – Austin, TX.
2014 – Nomination for Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship – UT – Austin, TX.
2013-2014 – Carl & Agnes Stockard Memorial Endowment Scholar – UT – Austin, TX.
2013 – Outstanding Cell & Developmental Biology Oral Presentation – Rice University – Houston, TX.
2013 – Travel Scholarship – Purdue University – Lafayette, IN.
2013 – Distinguished College Scholar – UT – Austin, TX.
2012 Illinois Summer Neuroscience Institute – UIUC – Urbana, IL.
2011-2015 – University Honors – UT – Austin, TX.
2011-2015 – Polymathic Scholars Honor’s Program – UT – Austin, TX.
2011-2015 – Dean’s Scholars Honor’s Program – UT – Austin, TX.
Certifications and Training
2013-2014 – NSC 321: Introduction to Peer Mentoring and Leadership – Level 1 CRLA Mentor Certification
2013 – Certificate of Completion: General Topics in Genetics – University of Texas Southwestern