A New Class of Autism-associated GABA Neurons in Memory Precision

2019 Seed Grant
Megan Williams, Ph.D.
University of Utah

Young Leadership Board Seed Grant

The proper function of the brain requires the concerted action of billions of interconnected brain cells called neurons. Most neurons are excitatory and their activation releases glutamate, which increases brain activity. However, some are inhibitory and their activation releases GABA, which decreases brain activity. Though inhibitory GABA neurons make up only 20% of all neurons, their function is critical for preventing runaway brain excitation, which can lead to neurological disorders like epilepsy, mental illnesses, autism, and intellectual disability. There are many different types of inhibitory neurons, but we still do not know how most types of GABA neurons function. We recently discovered a new type of GABA neuron in the hippocampus, a brain region required for learning and memory. The goal of our proposal is to conduct the first analysis of these newly discovered neurons in mice. We will first determine the anatomical and functional properties of these neurons. Then, we will specifically increase and decrease their activity and determine if they are required for mice to learn and remember. We found that these newly identified GABA neurons specifically express the protein Kirrel3, which is a risk gene for autism and intellectual disability. Thus, our research has clinical relevance for understanding the cellular defects and future treatments of cognitive disorders.

Other Grants

Lindsay M. De Biase, Ph.D., University of California Los Angeles
The Role of Microglial Lysosomes in Selective Neuronal Vulnerability
Synapses, the sites of signaling between neurons in the brain, play essential roles in learning, memory, and the health of neurons themselves. An enduring mystery is why some neurons are…
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As animals navigate their environments, they construct internal models of the external sensory world and use these models to guide their behavior. This ability to incorporate ongoing sensory stimuli into…
Xiaojing Gao, Ph.D., Stanford University
When Neural Circuits Meet Molecular Circuits: Quantitative Genetic Manipulation with Single-cell Consistency
Cells are the building blocks of our bodies. We get sick when the cells “misbehave”. The way modern gene therapies work is to introduce genes, fragments of DNA molecules that…
Rafiq Huda, Ph.D., Rutgers University
Conducting the Orchestra of Movement—Functional Role of Striatal Astrocytes in Health and Disease
Movement requires coordinated activity across a large brain-wide network. The striatum is a particularly important part of this circuit; it integrates motor-related information from many distinct brain regions to regulate…