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OVERVIEW

 

After the intensive refinement process that occurs during the developmental stages, the mature brain retains the ability of undergoing rapid adaptations in response to external stimuli by the means of a cellular phenomenon known as synaptic plasticity. Our goal is to understand how synaptic plasticity is regulated in discrete neural circuits, and how alterations of this process can lead to neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases. In particular, our laboratory is currently identifying susceptible circuits during early stages of neurodegeneration by using viral-based circuit mapping techniques. We are also interested in understanding how critical neuromodulators such as endogenous neuropeptides (e.g. oxytocin and vasopressin) are secreted and how their exocytosis impacts synaptic plasticity and ultimately behavior. (e.g. social behavior) To improve the resolution of our molecular studies and manipulations, we plan to develop novel tools to regulate neuronal signaling and function. In particular, we are interested in exploring photo-activatable molecules to control vesicle dynamics in in vivo and in vitro models.

 

RESEARCH LINES

 

Synaptic neuromodulation

Our group is implementing novel brain clarification techniques such as iDiSCO to examine the specification of neuronal circuits related to social behavior. We are particularly interested in the formation of oxytocinergic and vasopresinergic circuits which are critical for several aspects of social interaction. In addition to understanding the formation of neuromodulatory circuits, we are focused in elucidating how neuropeptides are secreted in the Central Nervous System. We have started a systematic characterization of the molecular mechanisms underlaying the fusion of neuropeptide-containing vesicles and have implemented novel tools to study their kinetics and dynamics in intact hypothalamic neurons.

Synaptic plasticity in the aging brain

Cognitive decline is a characteristic of the aging brain. Interestingly, synaptic plasticity, a proposed neuronal mechanism for learning and memory, is decreased in both naturally aged animals and neurodegeneration models suggesting that synaptic plasticity is affected during the aging process. Our laboratory is studying how aging modifies the rules of synaptic plasticity by identifying suceptible neuronal circuits and cell types in order to reveal the molecular alterations underlying plasticity deficits in the aging brain. We expect this molecular knowledge  will help to design novel strategies to restablish the molecular landscape of aged synapses and restore their functionalaty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synaptic plasticity in the aging brain