Syn­aptic plas­ti­city and neur­onal syn­chron­iz­a­tion - Tomi Taira

Interactions between genetic factors and electrical activity guide the brain to form from a randomly connected set of neurons to a delicate neuronal network. These processes are also sensitive to perturbing factors. Accordingly, disturbances in these processes can predispose the brain to diseases manifested only later in life. Exactly how neuronal activity shapes synaptic connectivity during development and what are the underlying molecular mechanisms are still largely unknown.

Our aims are to understand how synaptic networks are fine-tuned by homeostatic and Hebbian mechanisms during the development, and how are these processes associated with the emergent network properties (e.g. synchronous oscillations, network dynamics and criticality) in the brain. We are interested in the roles of developmentally expressed kainate-type glutamate receptors (KARs) critical for synaptic plasticity, axonal development and neuronal synchrony early in development. A characteristic feature of KAR-modulated transmission is its highly dynamic nature which is distinct from monotonic postsynaptic AMPAR and NMDAR responses on which the nascent glutamate synapses have been thought to rely on.

We employ state-of-the art electrophysiological techniques (visually guided patch-clamp, multielectrode arrays, extracellular recordings) in combination with molecular biological and genetic tools in in vitro (acute and organotypic rodent and human brain slices, cultured neurons) and in vivo animal models.

The unique functional properties of KARs will give novel insights into how new synapses are incorporated into developing neuronal networks. Further, the functional dynamics of KARs will shed new light on the mechanisms, range and limitations of the brain’s computational capabilities in rodent and human brain.

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Tomi Taira, Professor
Neuroscience Center, and Dept of Veterinary Biosciences, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
P.O. Box 66, FI-00014 University of Helsinki
Phone: +358 50 4155516