Our department's primary goal is to elucidate the basic signal transduction mechanisms which mediate key processes underlying various brain functions, such as learning, memory or emotion. A fundamental question is how an ensemble behavior of 10~100 billion neurons can possibly give rise to a coherent and integrated "brain" that controls the whole human organism for a period of more than eighty years. Our central nervous system is physically wired and organized based on evolutionary and developmental principles that are primarily encoded into the genome and that are highly conserved in mammals from rodents to primates. This neural network, however, is able to recognize and memorize external and internal events as they occur. And furthermore, brain function, especially human's, stands out by its intrinsic capacity to extract patterns and rules from these events, and to consciously associate them with abstract meaning and affective valence, while also unconsciously facilitating coordinated body responses.
Neurochemistry once used to be a relatively dull discipline consisting of analyzing substances that form the brain. However, it has recently become a field of excitement where we are now (almost) able to measure changes in cellular messengers or modifications in signaling molecules in critical parts of the neurons such as the dendritic spines or the axon terminals, as the neurons summate synaptic potentials or fire action potentials.
What are the precise nature and the whole spectrum of the molecular changes in the neurons that undergo heavy or patterned electrical activity? What are the molecular rules that govern these local and global changes, both electrical and chemical? How are these events, in turn, converted into more profound modifications of the synaptic wiring mechanisms? And finally do these alterations genuinely underlie certain kinds of information processing and storage?
To address these issues, this Department currently focuses its resources into two basic aims:
- Molecular investigation (including identification, characterization and real-time visualization) of signaling molecules involved in calcium-dependent synaptic modification, especially during signaling from synapse-to-nucleus, and back from nucleus-to-synapses.
- Understanding molecular mechanisms controlling cytoskeletal dynamics and remodeling on both sides of the synapses, in the dendritic spines and in axon terminals.
The School of Medicine 3rd Building, Rm # S606