The multidisciplinary approach of recording the electrical activity of neurons combined with molecular and cellular analyses, computational approaches and laser-based imaging provides us with the opportunity to observe and understand synaptic function and the ability of synapses to undergo functional modification. Ultimately, developmental disorders such as Fragile X Syndrome, autism and learning disabilities manifest as alterations in synaptic function and plasticity.
Ongoing studies by Patrick Wild Centre investigators in the Centres for Integrative Physiology and Cognitive & Neural Systems are providing insight into the normal processes of synaptic development and the changes in synaptic properties that occur in animal models of developmental diseases. We are examining “when” during development and “where” in the brain neuronal communication becomes altered in preclinical models of autism and severe learning disabilities, including Fragile X Syndrome. These studies will provide a framework to address when therapeutic interventions are likely to be most effective. Several lines of research within the Centre are directly testing the neurological basis of recently developed pharmacological interventions for Fragile X Syndrome.
Throughout the Patrick Wild Centre there are researchers examining neuronal development and function at the molecular and cellular levels, including the activity-dependent development of the synapse, the molecular mechanisms of synaptic function — from ion channel regulation to vesicle trafficking — and the role of neuronal signalling in axon–synapse interactions and ultimately neuronal survival and activity. Compilation of these cellular events can then be applied to the study of brain development and function at the systems level, such as the basis of learning and memory in the hippocampus or learned motor behaviours in the cerebellum, and how these structures interact with other brain regions. The group is also involved in translational neuroscience, progressing from the famous Morris water-maze to the development of novel behavioural tasks to study cognitive function in animal models.
The combination of these top-down and bottom-up approaches aims to identify the specific developmental defects in autism, Fragile X Syndrome, and learning disabilities and how they manifest as impairments in brain function. This will help to elucidate targets that offer the opportunity for therapeutic intervention.