Quick Project Snapshot

Understanding the role of synaptic genes in cognition and disease

Sensory information from the environment is ultimately processed at the level of synapses, the connection between neurons that form the most fundamental information-processing units in the nervous system. Vertebrate synapses contain a large yet intricately organised signalling complex of proteins encompassing neurotransmitter receptors, scaffold proteins and cell adhesion proteins. In recent years, human genetic studies have increasingly highlighted that disruption of over 200 genes that encode postsynaptic proteins result in over 130 brain diseases. While it is accepted that postsynaptic proteins are fundamental for synaptic function, plasticity and thus behaviour, very little is actually known about the impact of postsynaptic gene mutations in regulating complex cognition and higher order processing.  Modelling the complex cognitive processes that are routinely assessed in the clinical setting has been challenging in animal models. Bridging the gap between mouse and human cognitive testing, the recently developed touchscreen methodology provides an innovative tool for dissecting higher cognitive functions in rodents.  Multiple projects are currently available. In our laboratory, we use mice as models carrying mutations in key postsynaptic genes - including the NMDA receptor, synaptic scaffolds and cell-adhesion proteins - to study how these genes regulate synapse formation, function and cognitive behaviours. In addition to in-depth behavioural analysis using novel methodology which our lab has unique expertise in, projects will involve training in key cellular and molecular techniques including immunohistochemical and biochemical analysis.

 

 

  1. Nithianantharajah J et al., (2013) Nat. Neurosci; 16, 16-24.  
  2. Ryan TJ, Kopanitsa MV, Indersmitten T, Nithianantharajah J et al., (2013) Nat. Neurosci; 16, 25-32.  
  3. Coba MP*, Komiyama NH*, Nithianantharajah J* et al., (2012). J. Neurosci; 32, 13987-13999. *Authors contributed equally.
  4. Bussey TJ*, Holmes A*, Lyon L*, Mar A*, McAllister KAL*, Nithianantharajah J* et al., (2012) Neuropharmacol; 62, 1191-203. *All authors contributed equally.

Synapse Biology and Cognition Laboratory

Sensory information from the environment is ultimately processed at the level of synapses, the connection between neurons that form the most fundamental information-processing units in the nervous system. A central research focus of the lab is to understand the role of synaptic genes in cognition and disease.

Vertebrate synapses contain a large yet intricately organised signalling complex of proteins encompassing neurotransmitter receptors, scaffold proteins and cell adhesion proteins. In recent years, human genetic studies have increasingly highlighted that disruption of over 200 genes that encode postsynaptic proteins result in over 130 brain diseases. While it is accepted that postsynaptic proteins are fundamental for synaptic function, plasticity and thus behaviour, very little is actually known about the impact of postsynaptic gene mutations in regulating complex cognition and higher order processing. Moreover, modelling the complex cognitive processes that are routinely assessed in the clinical setting has been challenging in animal models.

Towards bridging the gap between mouse and human cognitive testing, the lab is employing novel behavioural technologies such as the recently developed rodent touchscreens as an innovative tool for dissecting higher cognitive functions in rodents. 

All Projects by this Lab

Understanding the role of synaptic genes in cognition and disease

Behavioural Neuroscience

The Division of Behavioural Neuroscience focuses on the use and development of models that reflect aspects of human disorders such as addiction, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, autism and neurodegenerative conditions such as Huntington’s disease. The Cognitive Neuroscience group additionally studies cognitive disorders caused by diseases such as stroke (cerebrovascular disease), Alzheimer's disease and other dementias from a clinical perspective.

All Labs that operate in this Division

Addiction Neuroscience LaboratoryClinical Cognitive Neuroscience LaboratoryDevelopmental Psychobiology LaboratoryEpigenetics and Neural Plasticity LaboratoryGenes Environment and Behaviour LaboratoryInhalant Addiction LaboratoryMidbrain Dopamine Plasticity LaboratorySynapse Biology and Cognition LaboratoryVascular Neurodegeneration Research Laboratory