Why we love basic research

Brandeis PhD students Jonathan Napoline (Graduate Program in Chemistry, Thomas lab) and Sara Haddad (Graduate Program in Neuroscience, Marder lab) tell PBS NewsHour why they’re excited about basic research

 

 

Eve Marder elected to Academy of Medicine

Eve Marder, Victor and Gwendolyn Professor of Neuroscience and Head of the Division of Science at Brandeis, has been elected to the Institute of Medicine during its annual meeting this year, according to a recent press release. Marder is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the recipient of many previous awards and honors, most recently the 2013 Gruber Prize in Neuroscience

To learn more about the research in the Marder lab, you can visit the Marber Lab blog on this website.

Rectifying electrical synapses in pattern-generating circuits

by Gabrielle Gutierrez

Rectifying electrical synapses are more interesting than they might seem at first. Our recent study finds that they have the potential to allow a circuit to control how robust the circuit output is to modulation of synaptic strength.

Gap junctions allow neurons to communicate quickly by serving as a direct conduit of electrical signals. Non-rectifying gap junctions probably come to mind first for most neuroscientists when they think about electrical synapses, since they are the idealized textbook variety. The electrical current that passes through the non-rectifying type of gap junction is simply a function of the voltage difference between the coupled neurons. However, this is only the case when the two hemi-channels that form a gap junction pore have the same voltage-dependencies.

Schematic shows that neurons can express diverse gap junction subunits (top left). Rectifying gap junction conductance is a function voltage difference between two neurons (top right). Bottom panel illustrates how coupled neuron output depends on the polarity of the rectifying electrical synapse and the intrinsic properties of the coupled neurons.

Schematic shows that neurons can express diverse gap junction subunits (top left). Rectifying gap junction conductance is a function voltage difference between two neurons (top right). Bottom panel illustrates how coupled neuron output depends on the polarity of the rectifying electrical synapse and the intrinsic properties of the coupled neurons.

We know from past electrophysiology studies that a single neuron can express a diverse set of gap junction hemi-channels, enabling it to form similarly diverse gap junction channels with another neuron. This could result in rectifying electrical synapses in which current flows asymmetrically between neurons so that current flow can either be permitted or restricted depending on whether the current is positive or negative. What we didn’t know were the consequences of electrical synapse rectification for a pattern-generating circuit of competing oscillators. Our recently published study in J. Neuroscience addressed this question and led us to conclude that rectifying electrical synapses can change how a neuronal circuit responds to modulation of its synapses – including its chemical synapses. Although we used a computational model for our study, our results indicate that rectifying electrical synapses in biological networks can be an important component in neuronal circuits that produce rhythmic patterns, such as those found in motor systems.

Gabrielle Gutierrez obtained her PhD in Neuroscience from Brandeis earlier this year, and is currently doing a postdoc with Sophie Deneuve at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris

Gutierrez GJ, Marder E. Rectifying electrical synapses can affect the influence of synaptic modulation on output pattern robustness. J Neurosci. 2013;33(32):13238-48.

Grandmother elephants

Boston Globe reporter Carolyn Johnson places Professor Eve Marder “at the intersection of wisdom and technology” in a blog post on boston.com, citing her “frank, thoughtful essays about the scientific life, reflecting about topics that range from the lack of female science faculty members to the advantages of using colored chalk”.

Eve’s most recent essay was “Grandmother elephants,” published in eLife in July.

Illustration: Ben Marder

Marder lab researchers win best paper contest

Alex Williams and Timothy O’Leary from the Marder Lab have won first place in the 2012  Brain Corporation Prize Competition in Computational Neuroscience  for their Scholarpedia article Homeostatic Regulation of Neuronal Excitability.  Williams, a Bowdoin College graduate currently working as post-baccalaureate research technician at Brandeis, and O’Leary, a postdoctoral fellow, won the worldwide competition to write the most popular review in the area of computational neuroscience, and gained a $5,000 prize, a feat that required not only superb writing but also mobilizing the audience to vote for paper. The award ceremony is today at the Computational Neuroscience (CNS’13) meeting in Paris.

Check out the winning entry online.

Marder wins 2013 Gruber Prize in Neuroscience

The Gruber Foundation announced today that Professor Eve Marder  will receive the 2013 Gruber Prize in Neuroscience. The Gruber Neuroscience Prize “honors scientists for major discoveries that have advanced the understanding of the nervous system”.  Marder is being honored for her studies of  central pattern generation in the stomatogastric ganglion in crustaceans, a model system that has been influential in shaping the understanding of neural circuits in all organisms, and for her work at the intersection of theoretical and experimental neuroscience, with tools such as the dynamic clamp.

eve-sm-crop-2bMarder is Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Neuroscience at Brandeis and Head of the Division of Science, as well as past president of the Society for Neuroscience. The Gruber Prize, awarded annually, includes a cash award of $500,000. The award ceremony will take place at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in November, 2013.

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