Congratulations to Laura Andreae for receiving a Research Grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The study aims to examine how different forms of neurotransmitter release regulate the formation, and ultimately the numbers, of different types of synapses in the mammalian central nervous system.
Neurons in the brain communicate with each other at specialised points of contact, synapses, where chemicals called neurotransmitters are released from one side and activate receptors on the other. A huge amount of work over many years has sought to understand how synapses are formed (and, often, eliminated) during development. This is now an increasingly relevant goal, as it is believed that many neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, may result from disruptions to the process of synapse formation. Therefore, a greater understanding of these processes could lead to new biomarkers or even treatments for these disorders.
In this new project, the researchers will focus on the role of neuronal activity in synapse formation. It has long been understood that levels of activity can determine whether synapses are maintained or eliminated after they have been formed. Recent work from Dr Andreae’s group now suggests that a particular form of activity, namely neurotransmitter release, may in fact operate earlier in development to drive synapse formation itself.