The Synaptic Mechanisms Laboratory investigates how individual synapses in the central nervous system function and how they are modulated. These processes ultimately control how information is carried through the brain. We use electrophysiological recording techniques, such as patch-clamping, combined with fluorescent cellular imaging techniques to probe the function of distinct synapses in neuronal circuits.
Synaptic junctions between two neurons are closely associated with processes from neighbouring astrocytes. These glial cells are integral parts the tripartite synapse structure, sensing the activity in the adjacent neurons and releasing compounds that influence the neuronal communication. Our laboratory is particularly interested in how presynaptic terminals release neurotransmitters and how astrocytes regulate this activity.
Many of our studies use the calyx of Held synapse in the auditory brainstem. This synapse is part of the neuronal pathways that integrate sound from the two ears and is involved in the mechanisms that the brain uses to determine the location of a sound. It is a large excitatory (glutamatergic) synapse, with presynaptic, postsynaptic and astrocytic elements that can be easily visually identified and recorded in living tissue. This gives a unique opportunity to study how the different elements of the tripartite synapse contribute to the regulation of neuronal communication.