The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health has awarded $375,000 to researchers who are investigating the interplay of two types of signaling in the brain.
The constant exchange of chemical and electrical signals among neurons in the cerebral cortex is responsible for our thoughts and actions. Understanding the interplay of these two types of signaling is essential for insight into neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well as healthy brain function.
Under the grant, Woodrow Shew, a biophysicist, and Julie Stenken, an analytical chemist, will develop new tools to measure changes in the electrical signals caused by carefully controlled and measured changes in chemical signals within a neuronal circuit.
The expertise of Shew’s group is in measuring the electrical signals of neurons during sensory information processing using implanted microelectrode arrays. Stenken’s research group specializes in precise control and measurement of chemicals in the brain using microdialysis implants.
Combining the tools and skills of the two labs promises to advance the frontiers of brain research in new directions that would be impossible without such interdisciplinary collaboration. “With microdialysis probes we can control exactly how much acetylcholine or other chemical is released and can therefore affect the localized chemical gradient in different ways,” Stenken said.
Neuroactive chemicals play an important role in practically every aspect of brain function. The production and distribution of Acetylcholine in the brain is tied to Alzheimer’s, for example. This work could expand knowledge on Parkinson’s, depression and more.
“We expect that this is just the beginning of a long term collaborative effort to get a deeper understanding of how the spatial patterns and dynamic changes in the chemical environment in the brain impacts how our senses work,” Shew said.