Understanding Synapse Function
The human brain's roughly ten trillion nerve cells (neurons) communicate with one another via functional junctions known as synapses. Although the molecular mechanisms involved in the production of signals controlling synapse formation remain largely unknown, when the regulation of synapse formation is disrupted, this is thought to contribute to cognitive impairment and various mental disorders. It is believed that differentiating between normal and altered states of synaptic structure and function could be the key to understanding spinal abnormalities and disorders such as schizophrenia and some forms of mental retardation.
In the past, Dr. Keith Murai has unravelled some of the mechanisms related to cognitive function and mental disorders, in particular those concentrated in the adult hippocampus, a brain structure important for learning and memory. As the Canada Research Chair in Molecular Control of Synaptic Structure, Dr. Murai is now trying to clarify the signalling complexes that control synaptic remodelling in vertebrates. It is known that certain protein receptors are important for synaptic plasticity and learning. Still there is much to learn about the molecular mechanisms that underlie the function of protein receptors and their ligands (the molecules that bind to the receptor molecules).
Dr. Murai and his research team are collaborating with other investigators at McGill, as well as elsewhere in Canada and abroad. Their findings are relevant to many related areas of research, including aging, genetics, and human development.