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Scientist awarded $2 million to study role of single neurons in memory and aging

Scripps Research Institute

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IMAGE: Ronald Davis is chair of the Department of Neuroscience on the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute. view more

Credit: Photo courtesy of The Scripps Research Institute.

JUPITER, FL, December 16, 2015 - A scientist from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has been awarded approximately $2 million from the National Institutes of Health to study the impact of aging and age-related disease on the inner workings of a single type of nerve cell.

Ronald Davis, chair of the Department of Neuroscience at TSRI, is the principal investigator for the five-year grant.

The project uses as its research model Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly. The fruit fly is widely used in these types of studies because humans and flies share many of the same mechanisms involved in learning and memory.

The neuron under study, known as the dorsal paired medial neuron (DPM), is unusual in its structure and function. Only one DPM neuron exists per hemisphere in the brain, and earlier studies showed it functions in specific phases of memory. The neuron's overall function degrades with age, leading to poor intermediate- and long-term memory in older flies.

"The study of this unique neuron offers a special opportunity to relate the biology of a single type of neuron to aging and memory impairment due to age," Davis said. "While our goal is to expand the understanding of the mechanisms of normal aging and of age-related diseases, this knowledge could significantly advance the development of novel therapeutics."

The new study will focus on the synaptic connections--the junction between two nerve cells that enable them to communicate with one another--in young and aged flies, as well as how gene expression within this neuron type changes with age.

The number of the grant is 1R01AG049037.

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