Part 1 of Our Founder Mike Browning's Antibody Story – From Shoes to Synapsins
Contributed by Mike Browning
After we merged our company together with Antibodies Incorporated and Aves Labs, a number of the members of these companies got together for dinner. During dinner someone asked me how I got into antibodies. I replied with a short story that Kristin Nixon, our President, had heard before. However, she said she liked hearing me tell it and suggested that I blog about it now that I am retired. So here goes:
A Shoe Salesman Becomes a Neuroscientist
My path to a science career was rather convoluted. In college I barely survived science courses and switched from premed to English major. By the time I graduated I had decided to be a filmmaker and moved to LA. I sold shoes to pay my bills and learned about heel heights, pumps and wing tips. But after three years trying to make it as an independent filmmaker, I realized I was not a very good filmmaker. Fortunately, it was while trying to figure out how films affect people that that I began reading in the library about the brain and perception. Hubel and Weisel’s work on how visual information is processed at different levels in different brain regions completely captivated me. I loved both the beauty of this idea and the possibilities for understanding the brain that it offered. I was hooked! But I had a 2.6 GPA in English and no research experience. I was extremely fortunate to be able to get into graduate school (on probation) in Psychobiology at UC Irvine largely because of the help of my ultimate mentor Gary Lynch. And after stumbling for so long I had a lot of pent up energy to use. Working long hours was now a delight and I obtained a Ph.D. in 1979.
My Work with Antibodies Begins
I first started working on antibodies when I was a post doc in Paul Greengard’s lab at Yale in the 80’s. My project was to purify a protein known as Protein X and then to make an antibody against it. I knew something about antibodies but absolutely nothing about purification. Fortunately, my colleague on the project, C-K. Huang, was an expert, and I learned a great deal from him. We purified the protein and made an antibody to it. To my intense disappointment, the blots showed labeling of the expected 55 kDa band, but also a band at 74 kDa and two at 78-84 kDa. My disappointment did not last long, as I came to discover that my Protein X antibody was also recognizing synapsin I a protein that Dr. Greengard’s lab has shown is associated specifically with synaptic vesicles. Antibodies to synapsin I are thus excellent makers of synaptic terminals and are among the most widely used of all PhosphoSolutions antibodies (View PhosphoSolutions’ synapsin antibodies.) Subsequent work demonstrated that Protein X and the 74 kDa band were in fact synapsins II. This is one instance in which an unexpected result in a western blot wound up providing a clue to the existence of previously unknown forms of synapsins.