Salk scientist garners grant to study how astrocytes impact neural behavior

Sept. 22, 2011
The Whitehall Foundation awarded a highly selective grant to Axel Nimmerjahn, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and holder of the Richard Allan Barry Developmental Chair in Biophotonics.

The Whitehall Foundation (Palm Beach, FL) awarded a highly selective grant to Axel Nimmerjahn, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies (La Jolla, CA) and holder of the Richard Allan Barry Developmental Chair in Biophotonics. Nimmerjahn will receive $223,000 over three years to study the contribution of astrocytes to normal brain function, which are involved in regulating neural circuit development and function.

The grant will help support research to determine whether and how astrocytes in awake animals regulate neural dynamics and perhaps behavior, says Nimmerjahn. Resolving this question will help decipher the complex cellular processes underlying normal brain function and behavior, he says.

A better understanding of astrocytes' role in the brain could lead to the development of new treatments for neurological disorders, many of which may result from, or are exacerbated by, defective or disordered glial function such as epilepsy or migraine. "Revising our understanding of glial cell function will change our approach to treating or even preventing disease," says Nimmerjahn.

Nimmerjahn has created and continues to develop tools that allow researchers to directly visualize and manipulate glia in the intact healthy and diseased brain. This has led to key insights in glial cell biology, with broad implications for our view of brain function, which may eventually lead to novel treatments for neurodegenerative brain disease.

Salk Institute president William R. Brody notes that Nimmerjahn's research will have a profound impact on advancing knowledge in developmental neurobiology and bring to life new treatments for neurodegenerative brain diseases.

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