Dr. Simone Astori, presently postdoctoral researcher in the group of Prof. Anita Lüthi, has recently been awarded a grant from the Ambizione program of the Swiss National Science Foundation. Funded for a period of 3 years starting January 1, 2012, Simone Astori will conduct the research project described here below at the DBCM.
With the Ambizione program the Swiss National Science Foundation promotes promising junior researchers in all disciplines. The aim of the program is to support young researchers who would like to conduct, manage and lead an independently planned project at a Swiss university.
Cellular mechanisms underlying sleep regulation: a role for synaptic plasticity within sleep-wave generating circuits?
The capability of synapses to undergo plastic changes by modifying their strength represents the cellular basis of learning, a phenomenon that is well characterized in brain areas involved in cognition and memory, e.g. cortex and hippocampus. The impact of synaptic plasticity is so far relatively unexplored in brain centers that participate in the generation of sleep-waves, such as the thalamic nuclei, which are thought to operate in a stereotyped manner. Synaptic plasticity could be essential for sustaining thalamocortical sleep rhythms, and, thus, for sleep regulation. Previous work of Anita Lüthi's group has identified a Ca2 -channel subtype in a thalamic nucleus that is responsible for the generation of sleep spindles, a hallmark of NREM sleep. The presence of this unique Ca2 source at intrathalamic connections together with NMDA receptors, a classical trigger of synaptic plasticity, could serve as a molecular substrate for plasticity within sleep centers. With the support of the Ambizione grant, electrophysiological and electroencephalographic analyses will be conducted on rodents to unravel the role of synaptic plasticity in sleep generation and regulation. The outcome of this study will help identifying new molecular targets for pharmacological treatments of sleep disorders. Boosting the activity of the molecular triggers that control sleep intensity will contribute to improve sleep quality, which is a highly valued aspect of life quality in modern society, and of primary importance for public health and security.