Anthony Auerbach, Ph.D., a University at Buffalo biophysicist, has been selected to receive a Jacob Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award totaling $2.7 million over seven years from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), an arm of the National Institutes of Health.
Auerbach, a UB professor of physiology and biophysics, has conducted highly regarded research in cell communication and synapses for 12 years.
Javits awardees, limited to 12 annually, are selected annually by the NINDS Advisory Council based on their research history and productivity. They may not apply for the honor. The NIH's description of the award states: "The (Javits award) is made to distinguished investigators who have a record of scientific excellence and productivity, who are actively pursuing an area of research of strategic importance, and who can be expected to continue to be highly productive for a seven-year period."
Auerbach's research under this award will focus on acetylcholine receptors. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter involved in carrying chemical messages across certain brain synapses and across all human nerve-muscle synapses. Acetylcholine receptors -- proteins on the cells receiving the message -- bind the neurotransmitter and set in motion a surge of molecular activity that results in thought or motion.
"Before the receptors come into contact with the transmitter molecules, they are very, very quiet, but after they bind acetylcholine, they jump into action," Auerbach said. "In less than a thousandth of a second, a receptor opens up a pore (a hole) in itself, which allows certain electrically charged ions normally present in our body fluids to move through the receptor protein, across the membrane and into the muscle cell. This ion movement, in turn, triggers a whole cascade of events that eventually leads to muscle contraction.