Neuroscience Institute

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The Neuroscience Institute continues a long and rich tradition of neuroscience at the Marine Biological Laboratory. It was here that Nobelist H. Keffer Hartline and Stephen Kuffler performed their groundbreaking studies of single nerve fibers that revealed the receptive field organization of retinal neurons. It was also here that LW Williams (1910) and later JZ Young (1932) discovered the squid giant axon on which KC Cole (1937) then made the first measurements of the resistance changes underlying the nervous impulse.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 5 of 5
  • Preprint
    Perceptual stability during dramatic changes in olfactory bulb activation maps and dramatic declines in activation amplitudes
    ( 2007-03-30) Homma, Ryota ; Cohen, Lawrence B. ; Kosmidis, E. K. ; Youngentob, S. L.
    We measured the concentration dependence of the ability of rats to identify odorants and compared these results with the calcium signals in the nerve terminals of the olfactory receptor neurons. Odorant identification remained far above random chance at all concentrations tested (between 0.0006% and 35% of saturated vapor). In contrast the calcium signals were much smaller than their maximum values at odorant concentrations less than 1% of saturated vapor. Extrapolation suggests that only a few spikes in olfactory sensory neurons may be sufficient for correct odorant identification.
  • Article
    Structural domains involved in the regulation of transmitter release by synapsins
    (Society for Neuroscience, 2005-03-09) Hilfiker, Sabine ; Benfenati, Fabio ; Doussau, Frederic ; Nairn, Angus C. ; Czernik, Andrew J. ; Augustine, George J. ; Greengard, Paul
    Synapsins are a family of neuron-specific phosphoproteins that regulate neurotransmitter release by associating with synaptic vesicles. Synapsins consist of a series of conserved and variable structural domains of unknown function. We performed a systematic structure-function analysis of the various domains of synapsin by assessing the actions of synapsin fragments on neurotransmitter release, presynaptic ultrastructure, and the biochemical interactions of synapsin. Injecting a peptide derived from domain A into the squid giant presynaptic terminal inhibited neurotransmitter release in a phosphorylation-dependent manner. This peptide had no effect on vesicle pool size, synaptic depression, or transmitter release kinetics. In contrast, a peptide fragment from domain C reduced the number of synaptic vesicles in the periphery of the active zone and increased the rate and extent of synaptic depression. This peptide also slowed the kinetics of neurotransmitter release without affecting the number of docked vesicles. The domain C peptide, as well as another peptide from domain E that is known to have identical effects on vesicle pool size and release kinetics, both specifically interfered with the binding of synapsins to actin but not with the binding of synapsins to synaptic vesicles. This suggests that both peptides interfere with release by preventing interactions of synapsins with actin. Thus, interactions of domains C and E with the actin cytoskeleton may allow synapsins to perform two roles in regulating release, whereas domain A has an actin-independent function that regulates transmitter release in a phosphorylation-sensitive manner.
  • Article
    Signaling microdomains regulate inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate-mediated intracellular calcium transients in cultured neurons
    (Society for Neuroscience, 2005-03-16) Jacob, Simon N. ; Choe, Chi-Un ; Uhlen, Per ; DeGray, Brenda ; Yeckel, Mark F. ; Ehrlich, Barbara E.
    Ca2+ signals in neurons use specific temporal and spatial patterns to encode unambiguous information about crucial cellular functions. To understand the molecular basis for initiation and propagation of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (InsP3)-mediated intracellular Ca2+ signals, we correlated the subcellular distribution of components of the InsP3 pathway with measurements of agonist-induced intracellular Ca2+ transients in cultured rat hippocampal neurons and pheochromocytoma cells. We found specialized domains with high levels of phosphatidylinositol-4-phosphate kinase (PIPKIγ) and chromogranin B (CGB), proteins acting synergistically to increase InsP3 receptor (InsP3R) activity and sensitivity. In contrast, Ca2+ pumps in the plasma membrane (PMCA) and sarco-endoplasmic reticulum as well as buffers that antagonize the rise in intracellular Ca2+ were distributed uniformly. By pharmacologically blocking phosphatidylinositol-4-kinase and PIPKIγ or disrupting the CGB-InsP3R interaction by transfecting an interfering polypeptide fragment, we produced major changes in the initiation site and kinetics of the Ca2+ signal. This study shows that a limited number of proteins can reassemble to form unique, spatially restricted signaling domains to generate distinctive signals in different regions of the same neuron. The finding that the subcellular location of initiation sites and protein microdomains was cell type specific will help to establish differences in spatiotemporal Ca2+ signaling in different types of neurons.
  • Preprint
    Photolysis of a caged peptide reveals rapid action of N-ethylmaleimide sensitive factor before neurotransmitter release
    ( 2007-08-01) Kuner, T. ; Li, Y. ; Gee, K. R. ; Bonewald, L. F. ; Augustine, George J.
    The time at which the N-ethylmaleimide-sensitive factor (NSF) acts during synaptic vesicle trafficking was identified by time-controlled perturbation of NSF function with a photo-activatable inhibitory peptide. Photolysis of this caged peptide in the squid giant presynaptic terminal caused an abrupt (0.2 s) slowing of the kinetics of the postsynaptic current (PSC) and a more gradual (2-3 s) reduction in PSC amplitude. Based on the rapid rate of these inhibitory effects relative to the speed of synaptic vesicle recycling, we conclude that NSF functions in reactions that immediately precede neurotransmitter release. Our results indicate the locus of SNARE protein recycling in presynaptic terminals and reveal a new target for rapid regulation of transmitter release.
  • Article
    Squid (Loligo pealei) giant fiber system : a model for studying neurodegeneration and dementia?
    (Marine Biological Laboratory, 2006-06) Grant, Philip ; Zheng, Yali ; Pant, Harish C.
    In many neurodegenerative disorders that lead to memory loss and dementia, the brain pathology responsible for neuronal loss is marked by accumulations of proteins in the form of extracellular plaques and intracellular filamentous tangles, containing hyperphosphorylated cytoskeletal proteins. These are assumed to arise as a consequence of deregulation of a normal pattern of topographic phosphorylation—that is, an abnormal shift of cytoskeletal protein phosphorylation from the normal axonal compartment to cell bodies. Although decades of studies have been directed to this problem, biochemical approaches in mammalian systems are limited: neurons are too small to permit separation of cell body and axon compartments. Since the pioneering studies of Hodgkin and Huxley on the giant fiber system of the squid, however, the stellate ganglion and its giant axons have been the focus of a large literature on the physiology and biochemistry of neuron function. This review concentrates on a host of studies in our laboratory and others on the factors regulating compartment-specific patterns of cytoskeletal protein phosphorylation (primarily neurofilaments) in an effort to establish a normal baseline of information for further studies on neurodegeneration. On the basis of these data, a model of topographic regulation is proposed that offers several possibilities for further studies on potential sites of deregulation that may lead to pathologies resembling those seen in mammalian and human brains showing neurodegeneration, dementia, and neuronal cell death.