Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience

The National Institutes of Health Awards $7.2 Million to Max Planck Florida Institute Scientists

Grants To Support Three Critical Brain Research Projects

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) $7.2 million in grants for critical brain research. The funding, which is comprised of three grants totaling $2.4 million each, will extend over five years.

As one of the three research projects to receive NIH funding, Dr. David Fitzpatrick, Scientific Director and CEO at MPFI, will study the functional organization and development of neural circuits in the cerebral cortex, a part of the brain responsible for processing visual information. The grant, which was awarded by the National Eye Institute (NEI), will allow Fitzpatrick and his team to use novel imaging technologies to visualize the activity of single neurons in the living brain, as they explore a newly discovered circuit that responds selectively to changes in luminance. The cerebral cortex is the largest and most complex area of the brain, comprising 20 billion neurons and 60 trillion synapses– critical for sensory perception, motor control, and cognition.

“The knowledge gained from the research supported by this grant will further our understanding of cortical function and development, providing insights into disorders that impact visual processing, as well as a broader range of neurological and psychiatric disorders that derive from cortical circuit alterations,” said Fitzpatrick.

MPFI Research Group Leader, Dr. Samuel Young, Jr., has received funding from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) to investigate how synaptic vesicle activity modulates the transfer of auditory information and how this impacts our ability to discern sounds. Under this grant, Young’s lab aims to reveal new cellular and molecular mechanisms enabling synapses to sustain transmission over a wide range of activity levels, particularly in the early stages of auditory processing. As this process is necessary in all synapses to encode information over varying timescales, the data of Young’s investigations will provide an understanding of how synaptic communication leads to information transfer in neural networks.

“Hearing is fundamental to our ability to communicate with one another. Uncovering the processes and the mechanisms that allow for proper hearing will have incredible potential as therapies for hearing and communication disorders,” explained Young. “In addition, our findings will have tremendous impact in understanding how synapses are regulated to meet the needs of the neuronal circuit they are embedded within.”

Finally, Dr. Hyungbae Kwon, Research Group Leader at MPFI, has received funding from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to study how cortical circuit neurons are connected and how their activity influences brain function. Kwon and his team aim to gain insight into the mechanisms that regulate brain plasticity. Plasticity refers to changes in neural connections caused by varying factors, such as behavior, environment, and emotions. By using advanced techniques to control neuronal activity and monitor changes in brain plasticity in real time, Kwon’s work will provide a new understanding of how neurons connect in the brain and how these connections are influenced by neuronal activity.

“The fundamental abnormalities that cause many brain disorders are still not understood, but we do know that abnormal neural connections play a role,” explained Kwon. “Gaining insight into the fundamental mechanisms that alter neural connections can help lead to targeted treatments and therapies for brain disorders of neural circuit dysfunction, such as autism and schizophrenia.”

To date, MPFI has received more than $15 million in grant funding from NIH.

This research is being supported by NIH under award numbers R01EY011488, R01 DC014093, and R01MH107460, respectively. The content of this release is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) – The Nation’s Medical Research Agency – includes 27 Institutes and Centers including NEI, NIDCD and NIMH and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov. The content of this release is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.