Understanding the neural mechanisms of learning and memory has been a central goal of basic neuroscience research for decades. Voltage-gated ion channels have key roles in brain function, but their involvement in learning is far less well understood than that of ligand-gated ion channels such as glutamate receptors.
The long term goal of my laboratory is to investigate the cellular and molecular mechanisms governing voltage-gated potassium ion channel regulation in the brain, and to understand how that regulation is involved in learning and memory.
Our experimental approach leverages the outstanding opportunities for collaboration that exist at UVM, allowing us to combine my laboratory's expertise in studying the cellular mechanisms of ion channel regulation with cutting edge proteomics methods (in collaboration with Dr. Bryan Ballif, Department of Biology), and with advanced learning theory and behavioral approaches (in collaboration with Dr. John Green, Department of Psychology). We focus on a voltage-gated ion channel whose regulation is well-understood (Kv1.2) and a type of learning whose neuronal circuitry is well-characterized (eyeblink conditioning), creating an experimental model uniquely suited for linking learning induced changes in an animal's behavior with the complex array of molecular and cellular changes that encode learning in the brain.
We are currently using quantitative mass spectrometry to identify how signals that govern learning change the assembly of proteins that interact with and regulate brain Kv1.2, and to identify the molecular mechanisms underpinning those changes. Those findings feed into a second line of experiments in which we use lentivirus mediated gene delivery to alter the expression or function of Kv1.2 or its interacting proteins in a subset of neurons (Figure 1), and then assess the effect of those molecular changes on learning in awake behaving animals.
Thus, by using a combination of proteomic, cell molecular, and behavioral approaches, we can analyze in uniquely high detail the molecular mechanisms governing learning and memory in the brain and in so doing gain novel insight into this fundamentally important process.
What it means for you:
I am dedicated to offering the best possible training experience for my graduate students. My previous students have gone on to post-doctoral positions in prestigious labs at Stanford University and the Vollum Institute, careers in industry and faculty positions of their own. Because we study trafficking of ion channels in neurons, our work is a mix of cell biology and neuroscience.
Students in my lab therefore have the opportunity immerse themselves in a wide range of scientific areas while having the chance to learn many cutting edge techniques. I am committed to nurturing independence and creativity, so if you come up with an interesting experiment of your own relating to our work, you would be encouraged to try it.