Role for postsynaptic protein complex assembly in synapse development

Neurons (nerve cells) in the brain and central nervous system transmit signals to each other across connections called synapses. Glutamate is the primary neurotransmitter (messenger) that nerve cells use to send signals across these synapses to induce action in the brain. Glutamate enables the brain to develop and language to be learned. Without synapses that allow the chemical signal's transmission from one nerve cell to the next, nerve cells will not be able to communicate with each other. Other neurotransmitters carry inhibitory signals to reduce activity in the brain. My research has shown that the post-synaptic density protein (PSD-95) stimulates the formation and maturing of the synapses that release glutamate, and increases the release of this neurotransmitter. Members of the PSD-95 family are involved in the development and organization of receptors that are clustered on the receiving side of the synapse. I am investigating how PSD-95 proteins regulate receptor clustering at synapses. This research is important because the number of receptors regulates the strength of the message: the more receptors, the stronger the message. We want to gain a better understanding of how receptors accumulate at synapses, and how changes in this process may underlie long-term changes in synapse structure and function associated with learning and memory. If we can determine how to change the number of receptors, we can permanently enhance the signals received in the brain, which could improve learning and memory function. Also, by understanding how synapses are formed and how neurotransmitter receptor clustering is regulated, we may figure out how to rescue abnormalities in synapse formation and function associated with several neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's, mental retardation, schizophrenia and epilepsy.