Explaining memory on the molecular level?
The molecular pharmacologist and biochemist Volker Haucke has been granted funding in the Koselleck programme of the DFG for highly innovative research into the mechanisms of neuronal communication.
Our ability to memorize our first kiss or the last day at school as most other functions of the brain relies on communication between nerve cells at special contacts called synapses, where chemical signals are conveyed from one nerve cells to the next. Volker Haucke from the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP) has now been granted funding within the highly competitive Koselleck programme of the DFG to unravel the mechanisms of quality control that allow nerve cells and the synapses formed between them to function properly.
Unlike most other cells in the human body nerve cells and their synaptic contacts need to be stably maintained over decades. Failure to do so results in synaptic and eventually neuronal dysfunction leading to diseases such as neurodegeneration and dementia. How synapses manage to function over decades to sustain neuronal communication over the entire life span remains a mystery.
Volker Haucke and his team use optical imaging of living nerve cells in culture and in vivo paired with sophisticated genetic and light-based so-called optogenetic and biochemical tools to elucidate how the machinery for neuronal communication at synapses is linked to the quality control system that ensures nerve cell function. They have already made the surprising observation that elements of the machinery for synaptic communication also form part of the motor of "taxis" that shuttle positive so-called neurotrophic signals to the control center in the nucleus of the nerve cell.
"We have only scratched the tip of the iceberg so far", says Volker Haucke, and adds that "understanding the quality control mechanisms that enable nerve cells to maintain synaptic function is not only of fundamental importance but may allow the development of completely new approaches to combat neurological and neurodegenerative diseases."
The project is the second Koselleck programme award given to an FMP researcher (Volker Haucke and Leif Schröder) within the last year and only the second Koselleck grant within the Leibniz Association of 91 non-university research institutions in Germany to which the FMP belongs. The research group will receive 0.9 million euros for a period of five years from the DFG. Up to 10 Koselleck projects are awarded every year.