Synapse imbalance, cognitive dysfunction and neurodevelopmental disorders
Host: Professor John Bekkers
Excitatory (glutamatergic) and inhibitory (GABAergic) synapses play a pivotal role in balancing excitation and inhibition within brain circuits, thus optimizing information processing and plasticity. Our recent research has focused on neuroligins, a family of postsynaptic cell-adhesion molecules crucial for orchestrating activity-dependent stabilization of excitatory and/or inhibitory synapses. Gene mutations in neuroligin genes disrupt signalling and plasticity, yet their impact on cognitive behaviour is less understood. I will discuss our work behaviourally dissecting distinct cognitive domains in mouse models with deletions in neuroligin genes (Nlgn 1-4). Our findings reveal neuroligins play differential roles in adaptive behaviour, decision making, and learning. Our approach contributes to advancing the measurement of cognitive constructs in preclinical rodent models, enabling deeper understandings into the neurobiological basis of transdiagnostic measures of cognitive dysfunction in neurodevelopmental disorders.
Associate Professor Jess Nithianantharajah is Research Lead for the Mental Health Mission at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, a One in Five McIver Research Fellow, and heads the Synapse Biology and Cognition Laboratory. She completed her doctorate in behavioural neuroscience at the University of Melbourne, then undertook postdoctoral training at the Howard Florey Institute, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, University of Cambridge, and University of Edinburgh before returning to Melbourne as an independent group leader at The Florey Institute. Her research interests lie in understanding the role of synaptic genes in cognition and disease.