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.

Sigma factors

In a new study appearing in PNAS this week, Brandeis Molecular and Cell Biology graduate student Houra Merrikh and co-workers from the Lovett lab identified the E.coli gene iraD as a regulator of the response to oxidative DNA damage in exponentially growing bacteria. Interestingly, the mechanism seems to involve the alternative RNA polymerase sigma factor RpoS, previously characterized as a regulator of expression during the “stationary phase”. Merrikh et al. argue that this response works in parallel with the previously characterized SOS response in protecting growing bacteria from DNA damage.

Microscopy (2): studying molecular motors

An article in Cell by recent Molecular and Cell Biology Ph.D. graduate Susan Tran and coworkers demonstrates the power of single particle microscopy in combination with Drosophila genetics in studying molecular motors. Studying lipid droplet movement in embryos, they show that multiple motors are attached to droplets in vivo. Surprisingly, having multiple motors per droplet in vivo doesn’t result in higher velocities or distances traveled.

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.

Actin "pointers" for EM labeling

Single particle electron microscopy reconstruction can be a powerful tool for determining the structure of large protein complexes. One limitation of the technique is the difficulty in coming up with specific labels for the protein that can be visualized with EM. In a new paper in RNA, postdoc Beth Stroupe and coworkers show that the use of the actin-nucleating protein Spire as a cloneable tag allows them to nucleate actin filaments that then “point” to the location of the tag in the complex seen in EM, and applied the technique to their studies of the C complex spliceosome.

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