Autism, schizophrenia

Activity-induced adaptations in the molecular machines that control neurotransmitter release
2013 Seed Grant

Pascal Kaeser, M.D.
Department of Neurobiology
Harvard University

The brain is the most complex organ of the body. Cells within the brain, called neurons, communicate with each other to influence vision, movement, memories, emotion—just about every activity that governs how we live our lives. So it’s vitally important to understand how these 100 billion cells form, grow, connect and communicate.

In the human brain, synapses are the contact points where neurons communicate. Faulty communication between neurons at synapses is a hallmark of many brain disorders, including autism, mental retardation, and schizophrenia. Although we understand the important role of the signal transmission at synapses, we need a clearer picture of the mechanisms behind it. Understanding what is happening in a healthy brain will enable us to understand what is happening in brains that don’t function normally.

Dr. Pascal Kaeser, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, is using his 2013 BRF Seed Grant to decipher what is regulating the signal transmission at synapses. He is focusing on molecules that have been shown to be involved in this regulation of synapses but their exact role is not understood. This knowledge will be critical to advance our understanding of the pathological mechanisms in brain disorders and may uncover novel therapeutic targets for a variety of neurological diseases. The BRF is pleased to be able to support Dr. Kaeser’s critical research, as well as the leading-edge research of all our Seed Grant winners.

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…
How the nervous system constructs internal models of the external world
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…