Turning on the switch for plasticity in the human brain

January 29, 2021

WOODS HOLE, Mass. -- The most powerful substance in the human brain for neuronal communication is glutamate. It is by far the most abundant, and it's implicated in all kinds of operations. Among the most amazing is the slow restructuring of neural networks due to learning and memory acquisition, a process called synaptic plasticity. Glutamate is also of deep clinical interest: After stroke or brain injury and in neurodegenerative disease, glutamate can accumulate to toxic levels outside of neurons and damage or kill them.

Shigeki Watanabe of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a familiar face at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) as a faculty member and researcher, is hot on the trail of describing how glutamate signaling works in the brain to enable neuronal communication. In a paper last fall, Watanabe (along with several MBL Neurobiology course students) described how glutamate is released from neural synapses after the neuron fires. And today, Watanabe published a follow-up study in Nature Communications.

"With this paper, we uncover how signals are transmitted across synapses to turn on the switch for plasticity," Watanabe says. "We demonstrate that glutamate is first released near AMPA-type glutamate receptors, to relay the signal from one neuron to the next, and then near NMDA-type receptors immediately after the first signal to activate the switch for synaptic plasticity."

This new study was also partly conducted in the MBL Neurobiology course, where Watanabe is a faculty member. "It began in 2018 with (course students) Raul Ramos and Hanieh Falahati, and then we followed up in 2019 with Stephen Alexander Lee and Christine Prater. Shuo Li, the first author, was my teaching assistant for the Neurobiology course for both years," Watanabe says. He will be returning to the MBL this summer to teach in the course -- and discover more.
-end-
The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery - exploring fundamental biology, understanding marine biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.

Marine Biological Laboratory

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.