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Recovery Act: Lighting up the Synaptic Gap

October 13, 2009

Sandra Rosenthal and her colleagues want to deck out the synaptic gap like a Christmas tree, tagging its various features with multi-colored fluorescent tags so they can study the basic dynamics of processes that play an essential role in brain functions including mood, sleep, appetite and aggression. The chemistry professor leads an interdisciplinary team that has received $387,000 in funding from NIH to develop a new generation of fluorescent nanocrystal tags and find ways to attach them to the cell machinery that manipulates neurotransmitters, the complex cocktail of more than 40 different compounds that the brain needs to operate. This machinery includes transporter proteins that shepherd neurotransmitters through cell membranes and cell surface receptors that bind to specific neurotransmitters at the surface of nerve cells and trigger a series of specific biochemical reactions inside the cell. Their ultimate goal is to create long-lived probes that they can use to track the movements of transporter and receptor proteins for extended periods, information that they argue should shed new light on the nature of neural processes such as depression, addiction and learning. The grant supports two graduate students, two research assistant professors and one undergraduate student.

This article originally appeared on the Vanderbilt University website. Reposted with permission.

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