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.