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Scientists Identify Machinery that Helps Make Memories 10.30.08

Duke University Medical Center researchers have identified a missing-link molecule that helps to explain the process of plasticity and could lead to targeted therapies. The discovery of a molecule that moves new receptors to the synapse so that the neuron (nerve cell) can respond more strongly helps to explain several observations about plasticity, said Michael Ehlers, MD, PhD, a Duke professor of neurobiology and senior author of the study published in the Oct. 31 issue of Cell. "This may be a general delivery system in the brain and in other types of cells, and could have significance for all cell signaling."
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Protein Facilitates "Hard-Wiring" of Brain Circuitry 4.10.06

A mechanism underlying the molecular switch that turns young, adaptable brains into older, less malleable brains has been discovered by an international team of researchers led by a Duke University Medical Center neurobiologist. The researchers discovered how neurons switch between neurotransmitter receptors during early brain development. This molecular switch signals the end of a critical period of brain "plasticity" in which simple sensory experiences, such as a mother's touch on the skin, are required to "wire" the brain appropriately. The researchers describe a key role for a neurotransmitter receptor called NR3A that is abundant in the brain for only a few weeks following birth. According to the researchers, their findings could lead to a better understanding of disorders of early brain development. NR3A levels have been reported to be elevated in patients with schizophrenia, which is thought to be caused by subtle alterations of brain circuitry during development, said the scientists. The team's results appeared this week in the advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience and will be published in an upcoming print issue of the journal. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, the Raymond and Beverley Sackler Foundation and the Ruth K. Broad Foundation. "There is really no other neurotransmitter receptor that displays such a sharp and striking timing of expression in the brain," said the senior author of the study Michael D. Ehlers, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology and investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Read more...

How the Neuron Sprouts Its Branches 12.9.05

Neurobiologists have gained new insights into how neurons control growth of the intricate tracery of branches called dendrites that enable them to connect with their neighbors. Dendritic connections are the basic receiving stations by which neurons form the signaling networks that constitute the brain's circuitry. Such basic insights into neuronal growth will help researchers better understand brain development in children, as well as aid efforts to restore neuronal connections lost to injury, stroke or neurodegenerative disease, said the researchers. In a paper published in the Dec. 8, 2005, issue of Neuron, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Michael Ehlers and his colleagues reported that structures called "Golgi outposts" play a central role as distribution points for proteins that form the building blocks of the growing dendrites. Read more...

Ehlers Named Howard Hughes Investigator 3.22.05

Michael Ehlers, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of neurobiology at Duke University Medical Center, has been named a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator by HHMI. He is one of 43 scientists selected in a national competition. Ehlers joins eight other Duke University scientists who are now HHMI investigators, with their research supported by the institute. Read more...

Brain's " Storehouse" for Memory Molecules Identified 9.23.04

Neurobiologists have pinpointed the molecular storehouse that supplies the neurotransmitter receptor proteins used for learning-related changes in the brain. They also found hints that the same storage compartments, called recycling endosomes, might be more general transporters for 'memory molecules' used to remodel the neuron to strengthen its connections with its neighbors. The researchers, led by Michael Ehlers of the Duke University Medical Center and Julie Kauer of Brown University, published their findings in the September 24, 2004, issue of the journal Science. Read more...

'Molecular Portals' in Brain Cells Identified 8.25.04

Infinitesimal particles of gold have enabled neurobiologists to track down key molecules in the machinery of "entry points" in neurons -- offering clues to the organization of a region that has thus far remained largely unknown neuronal territory. The researchers -- from Duke University Medical Center and the University of North Carolina -- used electron microscopy to locate molecules tagged with targeted antibodies attached to gold particles -- rendering the molecules' precise location visible. The findings by the researchers, led by Michael Ehlers, M.D., of Duke and Richard Weinberg, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, were published online Aug. 22, 2004, in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Other co-authors are Bence Racz of UNC and Thomas Blanpied, Ph.D., of Duke. Read more...

Michael Ehlers wins the Eppendorf & Science Prize in Neurobiology 10.11.03

The prize is awarded annually for the most outstanding neurobiological research by a young scientist during the past three years. Read more...

New Insights into How Nerve Connection Machinery Remodels Itself 2.10.03
Basic finding could yield insight into Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases

Michael Ehlers has identified key mechanisms by which the intricate "protein machines" that govern the strength of connections among neurons build and remodel themselves to adjust those connections. Read more...

Researchers Discover "Doorways" Into Brain Cells 10.23.02

Duke University Medical Center researchers have discovered that neurons take in receptors and other molecules from their surface membranes through discrete "doorways" -- specialized domains on the surface of nerve cells that regulate such entry. Read more...

New 'Shuttle' Mechanism Discovered by Which Nerve Cells' Connections are Altered 11.21.00

In the process of strengthening or weakening their interconnections, brain cells use a "shuttle" system to increase or decrease the number of receptors for a key signal-transmitting chemical, a Duke University Medical Center neurobiologist has discovered. Read more...