How Communication is Built within the Brain
As individuals, we can identify colours we have seen, recall places we have visited and recognize familiar faces. This is done through a highly complex process that occurs when nerve cells, called neurons, communicate in our brain. But what happens if these nerve cells communicate in error?
Understanding how communication within the brain is built, maintained and protected over a lifetime is one of the most important questions in the neurosciences. Even small changes in communication between nerve cells can become amplified over a lifetime and be at the heart of a wide spectrum of diseases.
It has traditionally been thought chemical synapses were involved in the way these nerve cells gather together to communicate. However, recent findings also suggest electrical synapses contribute to this communication process. Electrical synapses play a particular role in the visual system and the brain and have been associated with higher brain functions, like learning and memory formation.
Dr. Georg Zoidl, Canada Research Chair in Molecular and Cellular Neoroscience, is addressing the role of electrical synapses in the visual system and the brain. He is doing so by using genetically altered zebrafish, which have a brain and eye utilizing the basic communication principles found in humans. His research is tracking how information flows into the brain or eye under healthy conditions and diseases such as epilepsy and ischemia.
Zoidl’s research will improve understanding of the molecular and cellular basis of epilepsy and could ultimately lead to improved treatment for stroke.