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Salk News


When neurons get the blues: hyperactive brain cells may be to blame when antidepressants don’t work

LA JOLLA—The most commonly prescribed antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), lift the fog of depression for many people. But for around a third of people with major depressive disorder, SSRIs don’t make much of a difference. Now, researchers from the Salk Institute have pinned down a possible reason why—the neurons in at least some of these patients’ brains may become hyperactive in the presence of the drugs. The study appeared in Molecular Psychiatry on January 30, 2019.


Salk promotes Nicola Allen and Julie Law to associate professor

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has promoted Nicola Allen and Julie Law to the rank of associate professor for their notable contributions to neurobiology and plant biology, respectively. The promotions were based on recommendations by Salk faculty and nonresident fellows, and approved by President Rusty Gage and the Institute’s Board of Trustees.


In surprising reversal, scientists find a cellular process that stops cancer before it starts

LA JOLLA—Just as plastic tips protect the ends of shoelaces and keep them from fraying when we tie them, molecular tips called telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes and keep them from fusing when cells continually divide and duplicate their DNA. But while losing the plastic tips may lead to messy laces, telomere loss may lead to cancer.


New technologies enable better-than-ever details on genetically modified plants

LA JOLLA—Salk researchers have mapped the genomes and epigenomes of genetically modified plant lines with the highest resolution ever to reveal exactly what happens at a molecular level when a piece of foreign DNA is inserted. Their findings, published in the journal PLOS Genetics on January 18, 2019, elucidate the routine methods used to modify plants, and offer new ways to more effectively minimize potential off-target effects.


Research confirms nerve cells made from skin cells are a valid lab model for studying disease

LA JOLLA—The incidence of some neurological diseases—especially those related to aging, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases—is increasing. To better understand these conditions and evaluate potential new treatments, researchers need accurate models that they can study in the lab.


Salk scientists uncover the health effects of metabolic “magic bullet” protein

LA JOLLA—The metabolic protein AMPK has been described as a kind of magic bullet for health. Studies in animal models have shown that compounds that activate the protein have health-promoting effects to reverse diabetes, improve cardiovascular health, treat mitochondrial disease—even extend life span. However, how much of the effects of these compounds can be fully attributed to AMPK versus other potential targets is unknown.


Salk Scientist Saket Navlakha Receives CAREER Award from NSF

LA JOLLA—Salk scientist Saket Navlakha has received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) totaling more than $1 million over the next five years. The CAREER award supports faculty who exemplify the role of teacher/scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.


Salk team reveals clues into early development of autism spectrum disorder

LA JOLLA—Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a relatively common developmental disorder of communication and behavior that affects about 1 in 59 children in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite its prevalence, it is still unclear what causes the disease and what are the best ways to treat it.


Salk President Rusty Gage named to new five-year term to lead Institute

LA JOLLA—The Board of Trustees of the Salk Institute, in consultation with the faculty and a search committee comprised of Board members, voted to extend a new five-year term to Rusty Gage, who became the Institute’s President a year ago, expanding his tenure through 2024.


Thriving on teamwork: new research shows how brain cells filter information in groups

LA JOLLA—When we perceive the world around us, certain objects appear to be more noticeable than others, depending on what we do. For example, when we view a forest-covered mountain from a distance, the forest looks like a large green carpet. But as we get closer, we start noticing the individual trees, and the forest fades to the background. What happens in the brain as our experience changes so drastically?


Age is more than just a number: machine learning may be able to predict if you’re in for a healthy old age

LA JOLLA—Doctors have long observed that biological age and chronological age are not always one and the same. A 55-year-old may exhibit many signs of old age and have numerous age-related diseases, whereas an 80-year-old may be healthy and robust. While diet, physical activity and other factors play a role, there are many contributors as to why and how some people age better than others. Those contributors remain poorly understood.


Salk’s Xin Jin receives McKnight Memory and Cognitive Disorders Award

LA JOLLA—Xin Jin, an associate professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, has been selected as one of four scientists to receive the McKnight Memory and Cognitive Disorders award from the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience to study how the brain learns, remembers and executes actions. The award, which comprises $300,000 over three years, includes participation in the annual McKnight Conference on Neuroscience.


To repair DNA damage, plants need good contractors

LA JOLLA—When a building is damaged, a general contractor often oversees various subcontractors—framers, electricians, plumbers and drywall hangers—to ensure repairs are done in the correct order and on time.


Salk’s Janelle Ayres awarded $1.8 million by NOMIS Foundation for novel research on mechanisms to promote health

LA JOLLA—Associate Professor Janelle Ayres has been awarded $1.8 million over two years by the NOMIS Foundation to study health as an active process in which microbes—including the trillions of microorganisms that call the human body home—initiate interactions that promote the health of the host.


Salk Institute earns Charity Navigator’s highest rating for eighth consecutive time

LA JOLLA—For the eighth consecutive time, the Salk Institute’s strong financial health and continuing commitment to accountability and transparency have earned it a coveted 4-star (out of 4 stars) rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity and nonprofit evaluator.


Trio of Salk scientists named among most highly cited researchers in the world

LA JOLLA—Salk Professors Joanne Chory, Joseph Ecker and Rusty Gage have once again been named to the Highly Cited Researchers list by Clarivate Analytics (formerly Thomson Reuters). The list selects researchers for “exceptional research performance” demonstrated by the production of multiple highly cited papers that rank in the top 1 percent by citations for field and year. Additionally, among the 4,058 researchers named as Highly Cited, Ecker is one of 194 researchers appearing in two separate categories: “plant and animal science,” as well as “molecular biology and genetics.”


Nicola Allen receives $2.5 million Chan Zuckerberg Initiative early career award

LA JOLLA—Nicola Allen, an assistant professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, has received a five-year, $2.5 million Ben Barres Early Career Acceleration Award from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), as part of a $51.95 million effort launching the CZI Neurodegeneration Challenge Network. This new network brings together experimental scientists from diverse research fields—neuroscience, cell biology, biochemistry, immunology and genomics—along with computational biologists and physicians, to understand the underlying causes of disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s disease and ALS.


Maintaining the unlimited potential of stem cells

LA JOLLA—Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are the very definition of being full of potential, given that they can become any type of cell in the body. Once they start down any particular path toward a type of tissue, they lose their unlimited potential. Scientists have been trying to understand why and how this happens in order to create regenerative therapies that can, for example, coax a person’s own cells to replace damaged or diseased organs.


To detect new odors, fruit fly brains improve on a well-known computer algorithm

LA JOLLA—It might seem like fruit flies would have nothing in common with computers, but new research from the Salk Institute reveals that the two identify novel information in similar ways. The work, which appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on December 3, 2018, not only sheds light on an important neurobiological problem—how organisms detect new odors—but could also improve algorithms for novelty detection in computer science.


Salk scientist Ronald Evans named 2018 AAAS Fellow

LA JOLLA—Salk Professor and Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Ronald Evans, who is also director of Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory, has been a named a 2018 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society. In particular, the AAAS acknowledges his discoveries on steroid and orphan receptor signaling, revealing a “treasure trove” of both known and novel branches of physiology, metabolism and disease, according to the citation.