The plasticity of neuronal signaling is crucial for mechanisms of learning and memory, and for the ability of animals and humans to adapt to changes in their environment. Neurotransmitter receptors in synapses are dynamically modulated and actively redistributed following nerve stimulation, strengthening or weakening synaptic connections. Neurotransmitters and neuromodulators activate cellular kinase pathways that change synaptic strength, nerve conduction properties and gene transcription profiles. Other signaling pathways mobilize intracellular calcium ions and lipid mediators that have profound effects on neuronal function. Pathological changes in cellular signaling pathways and synaptic plasticity is at the basis of many neurological conditions including depression, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain and addiction. Faculty in the Department uses physiological, biochemical and behavioral approaches to investigate mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and signaling pathways in the brain and in peripheral nerves.
About the Image
Physiological acoustic stimulation reduces the phosphorylation state of the Kv3.1 potassium channel in auditory brainstem neurons. Images show the levels of immunostaining for Kv3.1 specifically phosphorylated at serine 503 in two areas of the brainstem in an animal exposed to sound to one ear only. The nuclei at the top right and bottom left were stimulated by the sensory input and have lower levels of phosphorylated channels (from Song et al., Nature Neurosci., 8: 1335-1342, 2005)