Scientists Develop New Tool to Monitor Brain Plasticity

Scientists at Scripps Research have developed a new tool to monitor brain plasticity, the way our brains remodel and physically adapt as we learn and experience things, from watching a movie to learning a new song or language.

Their approach, which measures the proteins produced by individual types of brain cells, has the potential to both answer basic questions about how the brain works, and shed light on numerous brain diseases in which plasticity goes awry.

Prior experiments in several labs have already revealed how brain activity spurs changes in the gene expression in neurons, an early step in plasticity.

The team’s experiments, described in Journal of Neuroscience on September 7, focus on the next essential step in plasticity, translation of the genetic code into proteins.

We still don’t understand all the mechanisms underlying how cells in our brain change in response to experiences, but this approach gives us a new window into the process.”


Hollis Cline, PhD, the Hahn Professor and Chair of Neuroscience at Scripps Research and Senior Author


When you learn something new, two things happen: First, neurons immediately pass electrical signals along new routes in your brain. Then, over time, this leads to changes in the physical structure of cells and their connections in the brain.

But scientists have long wondered what happens in between these two steps. How does this electrical activity in neurons ultimately coax the brain to change in more lasting ways? Even further, how and why does this plasticity decrease with age and certain diseases?

Previously, researchers have studied how genes in neurons turn on and off in response to brain activity, hoping to get insight into plasticity.

With the advent of high-throughput gene sequencing technologies, tracking genes in this way has become relatively easy. But most of those genes encode proteins-;the real workhorses of cells, the levels of which are more difficult to monitor.

But Cline, in close collaboration with Scripps professor John Yates III, PhD, and associate professor Anton Maximov, PhD, wanted to look directly at how proteins in the brain change.

“We wanted to jump into the deep end of the pool and see what proteins are important to brain plasticity,” says Cline.


Additionally, a number of the proteins were related to how DNA is packaged inside cells;


Scripps Research Institute

Journal reference

Schiapparelli, L.M., et al. (2022) Activity-Induced Cortical Glutamatergic Neuron Nascent Proteins. JNeurosci.


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