Discoveries
Neuroscience
Neuroscience
New technologies are allowing us to explore the brain as never before. We are entering a new era in neuroscience where our knowledge of the brain is beginning to match the urgent need to prevent and treat diseases of the brain.

Neuroscience

Neuron
07/06/2016

Small molecule keeps new adult neurons from straying, may be tied to schizophrenia

A small stretch of ribonucleic acid called microRNA could make the difference between a healthy adult brain and one that’s prone to disorders including schizophrenia.

Scientists at the Salk Institute discovered that miR-19 guides the placement of new neurons in the adult brain, and the molecule is disrupted in cells from patients with schizophrenia.

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Aging and Mechanisms of Disease
06/27/2016

Cannabinoids remove plaque-forming Alzheimer’s proteins from brain cells

Salk Professor David Schubert, first author Antonio Currais and collaborators uncovered preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. While these exploratory studies, detailed in Aging and Mechanisms of Disease, were conducted in neurons grown in the laboratory, they may offer insight into the role of inflammation in Alzheimer’s and could provide clues to developing novel therapeutics for the disorder.

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Molecular Psychiatry
07/07/2016

New neurons reveal clues about autism

The brains of some people with autism spectrum disorder grow faster than usual early on in life, often before diagnosis. In a study co-led by the Salk Institute, researchers found that stem cell-derived neurons made fewer connections in the dish compared to cells from healthy individuals. Furthermore, the scientists were able to restore communication between the cells by adding IGF-1, a drug currently being evaluated in clinical trials of autism.

In the journal Molecular Psychiatry, Salk Professor Rusty Gage, first author Carol Marchetto and colleagues show that it is possible to use stem cell reprogramming technologies developed in the past decade to model the earliest stages of complex disorders and to evaluate potential therapeutic drugs.

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Neuron
08/04/2016

When it comes to recognizing shapes, timing is everything

A Neuron study from John Reynolds‘ lab reveals more about how the brain processes vision, which could contribute to new therapies or visual prosthetics. Bursts in a neuron’s electrical activity—the number of “spikes” that result when brain cells fire—make up the basic code for perception, according to traditional thought. But neurons constantly speed up and slow down their signals. Reynolds, first author Anirvan Nandy and colleagues found that being able to see the world relies on not just the number of spikes but the timing of those spikes as well.

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Nature
08/10/2016

Neurodevelopmental model of Williams syndrome offers insight into human social brain

In an August 2016 Nature paper spanning molecular genetics, stem cells and the sciences of brain and behavior, researchers at the University of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute have created a neurodevelopmental model of a rare genetic disorder that may provide new insights into the underlying neurobiology of the human social brain. The disorder, called Williams syndrome (WS), is a rare genetic condition caused by deletion of one copy of 25 contiguous genes on chromosome 7, out of an estimated 30,000 genes in the brain.
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JACS
08/17/2016

New mechanism discovered for Alzheimer’s risk gene

Alan Saghatelian’s lab identified a new connection between a gene called ApoE4 and protein build-up associated with Alzheimer’s. Previous reports have suggested that ApoE4 may affect how the brain clears out protein clusters called betaamyloid plaques, but what was happening at the molecular level wasn’t clear. Saghatelian, first author Qian Chu and colleagues pinpointed how an enzyme, HtrA1, degrades ApoE4, which can let researchers better test hypotheses about ApoE4’s role in Alzheimer’s. The findings appear in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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Neuron
08/25/2016

Salk scientists map brain’s action center

Xin Jin and colleagues are using cutting-edge genetic, electrophysiological, and neural-tracing strategies to delve into the anatomy and function of lesser-known forms of organization in the brain. Jin, together with the paper’s first authors Jared Smith, Jason Klug and Danica Ross, unraveled how particular cells in an area called the striatum receive a complex variety of information. This work, published in Neuron, could help better understand disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, obsessive-compulsive disorder or addiction.

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Scientific Reports
08/25/2016

Elevating brain protein allays symptoms of Alzheimer’s and improves memory

The lab of Kuo-Fen Lee found that boosting levels of a specific protein in the brain alleviates hallmark features of Alzheimer’s disease in a mouse model of the disorder. The protein, called neuregulin-1, has many forms and functions across the brain and is already a potential target for treating brain disorders, as detailed by Lee and first author Jiqing Xu on August 25, 2016 in Scientific Reports.

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Nature Neuroscience
09/12/2016

The brain’s stunning genomic diversity revealed

Rusty Gage‘s lab showed how pieces of genomic material copy and paste themselves seemingly sporadically throughout DNA in brain cells. Gage, co-first authors Jennifer Erwin and Apuã Paquola, and collaborators, revealed that one type of jumping gene (called L1) can not only insert DNA but also remove large portions of it, resulting in much more genetic variation than previously thought. The team also examined how L1 variations influence a schizophrenia-associated gene called DLG2, providing insight into how these jumping genes could cause neurological diseases. The work was published September 2016 in Nature Neuroscience.

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