Marine snail study gives insights into human brain

What can cellular neuroscientists learn about the human brain from studying a marine snail? Much more than one might suspect.

"On a cell biological level, the mechanisms of learning and memory are identical, as far as we can tell," said David Glanzman, a UCLA professor of physiological science and neurobiology, whose research has strengthened the view that the human brain and that of a snail named Aplysia are surprisingly similar. "Human brains have many more neurons than the Aplysia's, but it doesn't look like there is any difference on a molecular or synaptic level.

"When this animal learns," Glanzman said, "many changes take place in its nervous system. I want to understand what causes these changes for certain forms of learning; I want to understand everything there is to understand. This knowledge will inform us about the kinds of changes that take place in our brains when we learn."

Glanzman's quest for this knowledge will be helped by his selection in November as one of eight scientists awarded the prestigious Senator Jacob Javits Award in the Neurosciences, which provides up to seven years of research funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). The Jacob Javits Award is presented to investigators who have "demonstrated exceptional scientific excellence and productivity in research areas supported by the NINDS and who are expected to conduct cutting-edge research over the next seven years."

Glanzman's research may lead to such human applications as developing interventions for people with memory-related disorders and reducing age-related memory loss.

Glanzman, who has been conducting research on the marine snail for 20 years, said, "As far as I can tell, everything that my colleagues and I have found in the Aplysia has turned out to be relevant to nervous systems in mammals. The original goal of Eric Kandel, who founded this field and who won the 2000 Nobel Prize, was to

Contact: Stuart Wolpert
University of California - Los Angeles

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