Medical Research

University of California, San Diego

Nick Spitzer, Davide Dulcis
La Jolla, CA
June 2013

Our perceptions, behaviors, emotions, memories and intelligence depend on the appropriate synthesis and release of specific neurotransmitters in the brain. Since the award of the Nobel Prize for the discovery of chemical synaptic transmission, it has been thought that transmitters are fixed and invariant throughout life. The team has recently discovered that sensory stimuli respecify transmitter expression during development of the nervous system. Their preliminary data from adult rats strongly suggest that different photoperiods stimulate transmitter switching between dopamine and somatostatin in neurons in the mature brain, overturning the dogma of transmitter stability, with resulting changes in behavior. Their goal is to confirm the ability of sensory stimuli to switch the neurotransmitters in the adult mammalian brain and to determine the effect of transmitter switching on behavior, in order to develop practical applications. The team’s approach will rely on a highly novel combination of immunocytochemistry, in situ hybridization, non-invasive imaging, behavioral tests and pharmacological cell ablation. They will quantify anatomical changes in the adult rat brain and correlate these findings with results of non-invasive imaging to accelerate throughput and analyze the effects of different stimuli on the same animal. They seek to identify the molecular mechanism of transmitter switching and the behavioral results.

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