Neuroscience Seminar Series:
Nick Spitzer – Distinguished Professor, Section of Neurobiology, Division of Biological Sciences and Center for Neural Circuits and Behavior, Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind, University of California at San Diego
‘Neurotransmitter Switching in the Adult Brain’
The brain changes in response to changes in the environment and experience, and these changes underlie processes such as learning and memory. Substantial evidence demonstrates that this brain plasticity results from changes in the strength and number of synapses – the connections that neurons make. But is there more to it than that?
The neurotransmitters made by neurons, which they use to signal to one another, have long been thought to be fixed and unchanging, and to be part of neuronal identity. Transmitter switching – substituting one neurotransmitter for another – is a relatively newly recognized form of plasticity. It occurs both during development and in the mature brain, it regulates behavior, and it may provide a basis for treating neurological disorders. We have visualized transmitter switching in single neurons in the adult brain and begun to understand the signaling cascade by which transmitter switching is achieved in the embryonic nervous system. These findings raise questions about the flexibility of the connectome and the involvement of transmitter switching in neurological disorders.