University of Toronto
Among the many mysteries of the human brain is how it stores and retrieves memories of past events, some of which happened decades ago. Unravelling this riddle is one of the central goals of neuroscience and the focus of University of Toronto graduate student Matthew Florczynski’s research. The results could have long-term implications for treating a range of neurological diseases and injuries.
Research has already demonstrated that various proteins regulate brain activity. The human brain contains billions of minuscule cells—called neurons—that form complex circuits. Neurons communicate with each other through tiny protrusions—called spines—that transmit electrical signals from one neuron in a circuit to the next, and enable the coordinated brain activity necessary for us to behave in a particular way. Spines also seem to help the brain store information.
Florczynski, winner of a master’s level 2011 NSERC André Hamer Postgraduate Prize, will build on earlier research involving mice that found increasing levels of a protein—called CREB—in a particular part of the brain during a learning experience actually increased memory of the experience. CREB also increased the number of spines on neurons. Neurons containing higher levels of CREB were better equipped to store information about the learning experience.
Florczynski and his colleagues are also zeroing in on another factor in the brain—called MEF2—that is known to directly affect the number of spines on neurons. Using techniques developed in University of Toronto and Hospital for Sick Children labs, Florczynski will increase MEF2 levels in specific areas of the mouse brain prior to a learning event and later test the animal’s memory of the learning experience. In satisfying our curiosity about how people store and later recall so much information about their pasts, this new knowledge may revolutionize the treatment of brain trauma.