Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship

$169,975

Dr Chantelle Fourie
Department of Physiology, University of Auckland

Interneuron networks underlying hippocampal plasticity and spatial learning and memory retrieval

The role of the brain's synaptic networks in controlling plasticity and memory

Understanding how the brain learns and stores memories is one of the major challenges in science. Neuronal activity in the brain’s memory centre, the hippocampus, is shaped by both excitatory and inhibitory synaptic input. A synapse is a space between two neurons that serves as a junction through which nervous impulses pass so cellular communication can occur. Synaptic plasticity - the ability of synapses to strengthen/weaken their synaptic input - is thought to underlie learning and memory. Dr Fourie’s research will uncover the role of hippocampal inhibitory synaptic networks in controlling synaptic plasticity and memory. Together these experiments will provide new insights into the brain networks underlying memory and will uncover novel targets for intervention to improve learning and memory, especially in neurological disease.

Dr Fourie will undertake her Neurological Foundation Philip Wrightson Postdoctoral Fellowship at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore under the supervision of Professor George Augustine.

Using optogenetics* to investigate inhibitory networks is one of the areas of expertise of Professor Augustine, who is well-known for his studies of synaptic mechanisms in the brain. This fellowship will enable Dr Fourie to expand her expertise in inhibitory networks and investigate their role in long-term plasticity and learning behaviour, by mastering and applying the latest in vitro and in vivo optogenetic techniques.

Dr Fourie’s long-term career goal is to return to New Zealand and establish her own research group to better understand the brain networks underlying learning and memory and how they can ultimately be manipulated to improve learning and memory in neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

*Optogenetics is a cutting-edge technology that combines molecular biology with light stimulation to allow researchers to have precise control over the behaviour of a cell or populations of cells.