Recent Grant Awards

Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Melanie Gainey received an NRSA Fellowship from NINDS. Working in the Turrigiano lab, Melanie plans to study the role of the AMPA receptor subunit GluR2 in synaptic scaling in cultural neurons and in vivo using a conditional GluR2 knockout mouse.

Assistant Professor Suzanne Paradis received a Smith Family New Investigator Award from the Richard & Susan Smith Family Foundation. $300,000 in support over three years will support the lab’s efforts to study synapse development and specifically the role of the Sema4B protein in controlling synapse formation.

Professor Leslie Griffith received $1.1 million over 5 years from NIMH to study why sleep is required for effective memory formation. To understand this linkage at a cellular and molecular level, the Griffith lab is defining the circuits that regulate sleep in Drosophila and how these circuits affect memory formation.

Professor Larry Wangh received $1.38 million over the next year from Smiths Detection to continue research and invention of LATE-PCR et al., platform technologies for highly informative detection and diagnosis of nucleic acids in a single tube.  There are ongoing projects looking at applications to cancer, prenatal genetics, and several infectious diseases in people and animals.

Channel proteins that aren't

What happens when you take an ion channel and remove all the parts that conduct ions? The answer might be surprising.

The Drosophila ether-à-go-go gene codes for a potassium channel involved in olfaction, learning, and locomotion. It is not solely a potassium channel, however. In a recent paper in Mol. Cell. Neurosci., Brandeis postdoc alum Xiu Xia Sun and Neuroscience grad student Lynn Bostrom from the Griffith lab show that an alternatively spliced form, Eag80, contains no channel domains and localizes to the nucleus. They further show that Eag80 can act to activate signal transduction pathways. This splicing can be stimulated by calcium and protein kinases, suggesting that this splice form may have a significant role in regulating neuronal function.

How long does it take the brain to access short-term memory?

A recent paper in Neuroimage by Brandeis Neuroscience Ph. D. program alumnus Yigal Agam, Professor Robert Sekuler and coworkers attempts to answer the question. To identify the earliest neural signs of recognition memory, they used event related potentials collected from human observers engaged in a visual short term memory task.  Their results point to an initial feed-forward interaction that underlies comparisons between what is being current seen and what has been stored in memory.  The locus of these earliest recognition-related potentials is consistent with the idea that visual areas of the brain contribute to temporary storage of visual information for use in ongoing tasks. This study provides a first look into early neural activity that supports the processing of visual information during short-term memory.

Nature NeuroPod

NeuroPod is Nature‘s (relatively) new podcast featuring interviews with prominent neuroscientists. Professor Eve Marder predicts the future of neuroscience in the November edition, and Professor Leslie Griffith talks about studying sleep in Drosophila in the December edition.

How regions of the brain get their specificity

The cortex is divided into functionally distinct regions, and the layers of the visual cortex are a classic example. But how much do the intrinsic electrical properties of a particular neuron type vary from region to region? In a recent paper in J. Neurosci., Brandeis Neuroscience graduate students Mark Miller and Ben Okaty together with Prof. Sacha Nelson found a new region-specific firing type in Layer 5 pyramidal neurons. They argue that features as basic as membrane properties can be region-specific, and that this regional specialization of circuitry contributes to the determination of the region’s functional specialization.

Rise and shine, little fly

Most animals sleep, but why they sleep and how the brain generates sleep is mysterious. In a recent study published in Neuron, postdoc Katherine Parisky and colleagues use genetic tools to manipulate the activity of neurons that control sleep in flies. Their results demonstrate that in the fly sleep is generated by GABAergic inhibition of a small cluster of peptidergic neurons within the circadian clock. Flies carrying mutations in this peptide, PDF, or its receptor, are hypersomnolent, similar to human narcoleptics who have defective signaling by the peptide hypocretin/orexin. These results suggest that the circuit architecture used to control arousal is ancient.

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