LA JOLLA—Although alcohol use is ubiquitous in modern society, only a portion of individuals develop alcohol use disorders or addiction. Yet, scientists have not understood why some individuals are prone to develop drinking problems, while others are not. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered a brain circuit that controls alcohol drinking behavior in mice, and can be used as a biomarker for predicting the development of compulsive drinking later on. The findings were published in Science on November 21, 2019, and could potentially have implications for understanding human binge drinking and addiction in the future.
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists Nicola Allen, Eiman Azim, Margarita Behrens, and Joseph Ecker have been named recipients in the 2019 round of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to better understand the brain.
LA JOLLA, CA—A team of Salk scientists led by Professor Martyn Goulding has been awarded $14.3 million over five years by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to create a high-resolution atlas of how the mouse brain generates and controls skilled forelimb movements, such as reaching and grasping. Knowledge generated by the grant will provide a better understanding of not only how the brain controls movement, but also how it is affected by neurological diseases and spinal cord injuries that compromise arm, wrist and hand function.
LA JOLLA—During high stress situations such as making a goal in soccer, some athletes experience a rapid decline in performance under pressure, known as “choking.” Now, Salk Institute researchers have uncovered what might be behind the phenomenon: one-way signals from the brain’s emotion circuit to the movement circuit. The study, which was published online on September 6, 2019, in eLife, could lead to new strategies for treating disorders with disrupted movement, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression, along with aiding in recovery from spinal cord injuries or physical performance under pressure.
LA JOLLA—The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which gives us our ability to solve problems and plan ahead, contains billions of cells. But understanding the large diversity of cell types in this critical region, each with unique genetic and molecular properties, has been challenging.
LA JOLLA—Star-shaped cells called astrocytes help the brain establish long-lasting memories, Salk researchers have discovered. The new work adds to a growing body of evidence that astrocytes, long considered to be merely supportive cells in the brain, may have more of a leading role. The study, published in the journal GLIA on July 26, 2019, could inform therapies for disorders in which long-term memory is impaired, such as traumatic brain injury or dementia.
LA JOLLA—Light touch plays a critical role in everyday tasks, such as picking up a glass or playing a musical instrument. The sensation is also an essential part of the body’s protective defense system, alerting us to objects in our environment that could cause us to fall or injure ourselves. In addition, it is part of the detection system that has evolved to protect us from biting insects, such as those that cause malaria and Lyme disease, by eliciting a feeling of an itch when an insect lands on your skin.
LA JOLLA–Joseph Ecker, professor and director of Salk’s Genomic Analysis Laboratory and Margarita Behrens, a research professor in Salk’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, will receive over $1.6 million over three years as part of a Seed Network Grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI).
LA JOLLA—Neurodevelopmental disorders arising from rare genetic mutations can cause atypical cognitive function, intellectual disability, and developmental delays, yet it is unclear why and how this happens. Scientists suspected a mutation in a complex of proteins could be the culprit for a group of rare genetic disorders and, now, Salk Institute researchers have identified the molecular mechanism linking this mutation with abnormal nervous system development. The team’s findings, published in Molecular Cell on July 30, 2019, bring researchers one step closer to understanding neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Nicolaides-Baraitser syndrome and others.
LA JOLLA—The world is filled with millions upon millions of distinct smells, but how mammals’ brains evolved to tell them apart is something of a mystery.
LA JOLLA—There are hundreds of thousands of distinct colors and shapes that a person can distinguish visually, but how does the brain process all of this information? Scientists previously believed that the visual system initially encodes shape and color with different sets of neurons and then combines them much later. But a new study from Salk researchers, published in Science on June 27, 2019, shows that there are neurons that respond selectively to particular combinations of color and shape.
LA JOLLA—The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recently announced that Salk Institute Professor Edward Callaway is one of 100 new members and 25 foreign associates to be elected to the NAS in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The election is considered one of the highest honors accorded to a U.S. scientist. Callaway’s recognition brings the number of Salk faculty elected to the NAS to 16.
LA JOLLA—Three Salk Institute faculty members have been promoted after the latest round of faculty reviews determined they are scientific leaders who have made original, innovative and notable contributions to biological research.
LA JOLLA—Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medication for major depressive disorder (MDD), yet scientists still do not understand why the treatment does not work in nearly thirty percent of patients with MDD. Now, Salk Institute researchers have discovered differences in growth patterns of neurons of SSRI-resistant patients. The work, published in Molecular Psychiatry on March 22, 2019, has implications for depression as well as other psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia that likely also involve abnormalities of the serotonin system in the brain.
LA JOLLA—(March 22, 2019) Similar to the dozens of Sherpas that guide hikers up treacherous Himalayan mountains to reach a summit, the nervous system relies on elaborate timing and location of guidance cues for neuronal axons—threadlike projections—to successfully reach their destinations in the body. Now, Salk Institute researchers discover how neurons navigate a tricky cellular environment by listening for directions, while simultaneously filtering out inappropriate instructions to avoid getting lost. The findings appeared in Neuron on March 19, 2019.
LA JOLLA—It’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for. In a famous example, people were asked to closely observe two groups of people—one group clad in black, the other in white—pass a ball among themselves. Viewers were asked to count the number of times the ball passed from black to white. Remarkably, most observers did not notice a man in a gorilla suit, walking among the players. This ability of the brain to ignore extraneous visual information is critical to how we work and function, but the processes governing perception and attention are not fully understood. Scientists have long theorized that attention to a particular object can alter perception by amplifying certain neuronal activity and suppressing the activity of other neurons (brain “noise”).
LA JOLLA—Salk researchers have found, for the first time, that a blood-clotting protein can, unexpectedly, degrade nerves—and how nerve-supporting glial cells, including Schwann cells, provide protection. The findings, published March 14, 2019, in the journal PLOS Genetics, show that Schwann cells protect nerves by blocking this blood-clotting protein as well as other potentially destructive enzymes released by muscle cells. The work could have implications for diseases as diverse as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia.
LA JOLLA—What makes us human, and where does this mysterious property of “humanness” come from? Humans are genetically similar to chimpanzees and bonobos, yet there exist obvious behavioral and cognitive differences. Now, researchers from the Salk Institute, in collaboration with researchers from the anthropology department at UC San Diego, have developed a strategy to more easily study the early development of human neurons compared with the neurons of nonhuman primates. The study, which appeared in eLife on February 7, 2019, offers scientists a novel tool for fundamental brain research.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
LA JOLLA—For most, the time spent staring at screens—on computers, phones, iPads—constitutes many hours and can often disrupt sleep. Now, Salk Institute researchers have pinpointed how certain cells in the eye process ambient light and reset our internal clocks, the daily cycles of physiological processes known as the circadian rhythm. When these cells are exposed to artificial light late into the night, our internal clocks can get confused, resulting in a host of health issues.
LA JOLLA—Old age is the greatest risk factor for many diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and cancer. Geroprotectors are a recently identified class of anti-aging compounds. New Salk research has now identified a unique subclass of these compounds, dubbed geroneuroprotectors (GNPs), which are AD drug candidates and slow the aging process in mice.
LA JOLLA—The emerging technology of sonogenetics—a technique where cells are controlled by sound—offers the potential to one day replace pharmaceutical drugs or invasive surgical treatments for neurological conditions like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease or posttraumatic stress disorder.
LA JOLLA—The words “fly like an eagle” are famously part of a song, but they may also be words that make some scientists scratch their heads. Especially when it comes to soaring birds like eagles, falcons and hawks, who seem to ascend to great heights over hills, canyons and mountain tops with ease. Scientists realize that upward currents of warm air assist the birds in their flight, but they don’t know how the birds find and navigate these thermal plumes.
LA JOLLA—Studying the fundamental aspects of biology can sometimes lead to unexpected findings that directly relate to human disease. In one of the latest examples of scientific serendipity, researchers from the Salk Institute found that an important quality control mechanism in baker’s yeast is closely connected to hypomyelinating leukodystrophy, a debilitating disease found in children.
LA JOLLA—Every smell, from a rose to a smoky fire to a pungent fish, is composed of a mixture of odorant molecules that bind to protein receptors inside your nose. But scientists have struggled to understand exactly what makes each combination of odorant molecules smell the way it does or predict from its structure whether a molecule is pleasant, noxious or has no smell at all.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute announced that distinguished neuroscientist Kay Tye will join the Salk faculty in January 2019 as a full professor. She is currently an associate professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
LA JOLLA—Can you tell the smell of a rose from the scent of a lilac? If so, you have your brain’s piriform cortex to thank. Compared to many parts of the brain, the piriform cortex—which lets animals and humans process information about smells—looks like a messy jumble of connections between cells called neurons. Now, Salk Institute researchers have illuminated how the randomness of the piriform cortex is actually critical to how the brain distinguishes between similar odors.
LA JOLLA—Driving to work, typing an email or playing a round of golf—people perform actions such as these throughout the day. But neuroscientists are still unsure how the brain orchestrates complex actions or switches to a new action—behaviors that are impaired in disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
LA JOLLA—Eiman Azim, an assistant professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, has received a McKnight Scholar Award from the McKnight Foundation. The award, which totals $225,000 over three years, encourages neuroscientists at early stages of their careers to focus on disorders of learning and memory. Each year it is awarded to no more than six neuroscientists.
LA JOLLA—Defective energy production in old neurons might explain why our brains are so prone to age-related diseases. Salk researchers used a new method to discover that cells from older individuals had impaired mitochondria—the power stations of cells—and reduced energy production. A better understanding of the effects of aging on mitochondria could reveal more about the link between mitochondrial dysfunction and age-related brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
LA JOLLA—As part of its efforts to continuously attract and retain top talent, the Salk Institute has appointed neuroscientist Margarita Behrens to the newly created position of Research Professor, which carries non-tenure faculty status. Behrens, who has been a staff scientist in Salk’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory (CNL) since 2009, will lead her own research group within the CNL, where she will carry out independent research projects and continue to collaborate on studies with the Institute’s other world-renowned neuroscience faculty.
LA JOLLA—By creating multiple types of neurons from stem cells and observing how they interact, Salk scientists have developed a new way to study the connections between brain cells in the lab. Using the technique, which generates a partial model of the brain, the team showed how communication between neurons is altered in people with schizophrenia. The work appeared in Cell Stem Cell on May 3, 2018.
LA JOLLA—If 95 percent of your neighbors are chatty and outgoing, you probably know more about them than the 5 percent who are reclusive and shy. It’s similar for neuroscientists who study the striatum, a brain region associated with action control and learning: they know a lot more about the 95 percent of neurons that communicate with outside regions than the 5 percent that communicate only within the striatum.
LA JOLLA—Many neurological disorders—Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, even depression—have lagged behind in new therapies. Because the brain is so complex, it can be difficult to discover new drugs and even when a drug is promising in animal models, it often doesn’t work for humans.
LA JOLLA—With forensic science facing mounting scrutiny as it plays an increasingly prominent role in the administration of justice, six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes. Their call to action appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the week of April 9, 2018.
LA JOLLA—In the perennial question of nature versus nurture, a new study suggests an intriguing connection between the two. Salk Institute scientists report in the journal Science that the type of mothering a female mouse provides her pups actually changes their DNA. The work lends support to studies about how childhood environments affect brain development in humans and could provide insights into neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia.
LA JOLLA—Ask a dozen people about their greatest fears, and you’ll likely get a dozen different responses. That, along with the complexity of the human brain, makes fear—and its close cousin, anxiety—difficult to study. For this reason, clinical anti-anxiety medicines have mixed results, even though they are broadly prescribed. In fact, one in six Americans takes a psychiatric drug.
LA JOLLA—Legs and arms perform very different functions. Our legs are responsible primarily for repetitive locomotion, like walking and running. Our arms and hands, by contrast, must be able to execute many highly specialized jobs—picking up a pen and writing, holding a fork, or playing the violin, just to name three.
LA JOLLA—A team of investigators led by Salk Professor Inder Verma has received a $1.2 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to generate transparent tissues in mammals using optically unique proteins called reflectins. This work will allow researchers to make better observations and extend the capabilities of live microscopy, such as observing the brain activity of mice while they are awake.
LA JOLLA—Potentially explaining why even healthy brains don’t function well with age, Salk researchers have discovered that genes that are switched on early in brain development to sever connections between neurons as the brain fine-tunes, are again activated in aging neuronal support cells called astrocytes. The work, which appeared in Cell Reports on January 2, 2018, suggests that astrocytes may be good therapeutic targets to prevent or reverse the effects of normal aging.
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Professors Joanne Chory and Terrence Sejnowski have been elected Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI). Chory is director of the Salk Institute’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator and holder of the Howard H. and Maryam R. Newman Chair in Plant Biology. Sejnowski is head of the Institute’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, an HHMI Investigator and holder of the Francis Crick Chair.
LA JOLLA—Every day, websites you visit and smartphone apps that you use are crunching huge sets of data to find things that resemble each other: products that are similar to your past purchases; songs that are similar to tunes you’ve liked; faces that are similar to people you’ve identified in photos. All these tasks are known as similarity searches, and the ability to perform these massive matching games well—and fast—has been an ongoing challenge for computer scientists.
LA JOLLA—Sensory neurons regulate how we recognize pain, touch, and the movement and position of our own bodies, but the field of neuroscience is just beginning to unravel this circuitry. Now, new research from the Salk Institute shows how a protein called p75 is critical for pain signaling, which could one day have implications for treating neurological disorders as well as trauma such as spinal cord injury.
LA JOLLA—To have a good phone conversation, you need a good cellular connection. What’s true for mobile phones also turns out to be true for neurons.
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Assistant Professor Eiman Azim has been named an NIH Director’s New Innovator for 2017 as part of the National Institutes of Health’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program. The award provides $1.5 million for a 5-year project during which Azim will explore how the nervous system controls dexterous movements.
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists have discovered that an interaction between two key proteins helps regulate and maintain the cells that produce neurons. The work, published in Cell Stem Cell on September 14, 2017, offers insight into why an imbalance between these precursor cells and neurons might contribute to mental illness or age-related brain disease.
LA JOLLA—Salk Associate Professor Tatyana Sharpee has been awarded a grant of approximately $950,000 over 4 years by the National Science Foundation to study how the brain processes complex sounds. This grant is part of a multi-national project together with groups in France and Israel.
LA JOLLA—As part of the National Science Foundation’s funding for new multidisciplinary approaches to neuroscience, Salk Professor Terrence Sejnowski together with the California Institute of Technology will receive over $1 million over 3 years to pursue advanced modeling of the brain.
LA JOLLA—Two Salk neuroscience labs are part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) effort to better understand the brain. Salk Professors Terrence Sejnowski and Ed Callaway are each collaborators in multi-institute projects awarded over $9 million apiece.
LA JOLLA—Scientists have, for the first time, characterized the molecular markers that make the brain’s front lines of immune defense—cells called microglia—unique. In the process, they discovered further evidence that microglia may play roles in a variety of neurodegenerative and psychiatric illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases as well as schizophrenia, autism and depression.
LA JOLLA—For roughly one-third of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder, lithium is a miracle drug, effectively treating both their mania and depression. But once someone is diagnosed, it can take up to a year to learn whether that person will be among the 30 percent who respond to lithium or the 70 percent who do not.
LA JOLLA—Say you’re reaching for the fruit cup at a buffet, but at the last second you switch gears and grab a cupcake instead. Emotionally, your decision is a complex stew of guilt and mouth-watering anticipation. But physically it’s a simple shift: instead of moving left, your hand went right. Such split-second changes interest neuroscientists because they play a major role in diseases that involve problems with selecting an action, like Parkinson’s and drug addiction.
LA JOLLA—Not everyone is Fred Astaire or Michael Jackson, but even those of us who seem to have two left feet have got rhythm—in our brains. From breathing to walking to chewing, our days are filled with repetitive actions that depend on the rhythmic firing of neurons. Yet the neural circuitry underpinning such seemingly ordinary behaviors is not fully understood, even though better insights could lead to new therapies for disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, ALS and autism.
LA JOLLA—Although we spend a lot of our time online nowadays—streaming music and video, checking email and social media, or obsessively reading the news—few of us know about the mathematical algorithms that manage how our content is delivered. But deciding how to route information fairly and efficiently through a distributed system with no central authority was a priority for the Internet’s founders. Now, a Salk Institute discovery shows that an algorithm used for the Internet is also at work in the human brain, an insight that improves our understanding of engineered and neural networks and potentially even learning disabilities.
LA JOLLA—Anyone who has allowed a child to “help” with a project quickly learns that kids, no matter how intelligent or eager, are less competent than adults. Teenagers are more capable—but, as every parent knows, teens can be erratic and unreliable. And it’s not just in humans; obvious differences in behavior and ability between juveniles and adults are seen across the animal kingdom.
LA JOLLA—When you build models, whether ships or cars, you want them to be as much like the real deal as possible. This quality is even more crucial for building model organs, because disease treatments developed from these models have to be safe and effective for humans. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute have studied a 3D “mini-brain” grown from human stem cells and found it to be structurally and functionally more similar to real brains than the 2D models in widespread use. The discovery, appearing in the December 20, 2016, issue of Cell Reports, indicates that the new model could better help scientists understand brain development as well as neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia.
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute researchers have discovered a holy grail of gene editing—the ability to, for the first time, insert DNA at a target location into the non-dividing cells that make up the majority of adult organs and tissues. The technique, which the team showed was able to partially restore visual responses in blind rodents, will open new avenues for basic research and a variety of treatments, such as for retinal, heart and neurological diseases.
LA JOLLA—Every night while you sleep, electrical waves of brain activity circle around each side of your brain, tracing a pattern that, were it on the surface of your head, might look like the twin hair buns of Star Wars’ Princess Leia. The Salk Institute scientists who discovered these circular “Princess Leia” oscillations, which are described in the journal eLife, think the waves are responsible each night for forming associations between different aspects of a day’s memories.
LA JOLLA—Salk Associate Professor Sreekanth Chalasani has been awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative for developing a way to selectively activate brain, heart, muscle and other cells using ultrasonic waves, which could be a boon to neuroscience research as well as medicine.
LA JOLLA—The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies will co-lead a $15.4 million effort to develop new systems for quickly screening libraries of drugs for potential effectiveness against schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has announced. The consortium, which includes four academic or nonprofit institutions and two industry partners, will be led by Hongjun Song, PhD, of Johns Hopkins and Rusty Gage, PhD, of Salk.
LA JOLLA—In a study spanning molecular genetics, stem cells and the sciences of both brain and behavior, researchers at University of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute have created a neurodevelopmental model of a rare genetic disorder that may provide new insights into the underlying neurobiology of the human social brain.
LA JOLLA—Visual prosthetics, or bionic eyes, are soon becoming a reality, as researchers make strides in strategies to reactivate parts of the brain that process visual information in people affected by blindness.
LA JOLLA—Our brains can survive only for a few minutes without oxygen. Salk Institute researchers have now identified the timing of a dramatic metabolic shift in developing neurons, which makes them become dependent on oxygen as a source of energy.
LA JOLLA—The brains of some people with autism spectrum disorder grow faster than usual early on in life, often before diagnosis. A new study co-led by Salk Institute scientists has employed a cutting-edge stem cell technique to unravel the mechanisms driving the mysterious phenomenon of excess brain growth, which affects as many as 30 percent of people with autism.
LA JOLLA—A small stretch of ribonucleic acid called microRNA could make the difference between a healthy adult brain and one that’s prone to disorders including schizophrenia.
LA JOLLA–Salk Institute scientists have found preliminary evidence that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other compounds found in marijuana can promote the cellular removal of amyloid beta, a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
LA JOLLA—When tweaking its architecture, the adult brain works like a sculptor—starting with more than it needs so it can carve away the excess to achieve the perfect design. That’s the conclusion of a new study that tracked developing cells in an adult mouse brain in real time.
LA JOLLA—A microscope about the size of a penny is giving scientists a new window into the everyday activity of cells within the spinal cord. The innovative technology revealed that astrocytes—cells in the nervous system that do not conduct electrical signals and were traditionally viewed as merely supportive—unexpectedly react to intense sensation.
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists showed how an FDA-approved drug boosts the health of brain cells by limiting their energy use. Like removing unnecessary lighting from a financially strapped household to save on electricity bills, the drug—called rapamycin—prolongs the survival of diseased neurons by forcing them to reduce protein production to conserve cellular energy.
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute scientists have developed a new reagent to map the brain’s complex network of connections that is 20 times more efficient than their previous version. This tool improves upon a technique called rabies virus tracing, which was originally developed in the Callaway lab at Salk and is commonly used to map neural connections.
LA JOLLA—By adolescence, your brain already contains most of the neurons that you’ll have for the rest of your life. But a few regions continue to grow new nerve cells—and require the services of cellular sentinels, specialized immune cells that keep the brain safe by getting rid of dead or dysfunctional cells.
LA JOLLA—Distinguished Salk Institute Professor Rusty Gage is one of four new members to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Governing Council. Gage is a professor in Salk’s Laboratory of Genetics and holds the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease.
LA JOLLA—When you stare in puzzlement at an optical illusion, two distinct parts of the neocortex in your brain are hard at work: the primary visual cortex is receiving information on what your eyes see, and the surrounding higher order visual areas are trying to interpret that tricky amalgam of information. These two areas, though, are linked in more ways than just function—the same gene controls the size of each area, Salk researchers led by Dennis O’Leary have now discovered.
LA JOLLA—Salk researchers and collaborators have achieved critical insight into the size of neural connections, putting the memory capacity of the brain far higher than common estimates. The new work also answers a longstanding question as to how the brain is so energy efficient and could help engineers build computers that are incredibly powerful but also conserve energy.
LA JOLLA—A gene linked to mental disorders helps lays the foundation for a crucial brain structure during prenatal development, according to Salk Institute research published January 14, 2016 in Cell Reports.
LA JOLLA—A tiny sliver of a person’s DNA—several thousand times smaller than a typical gene—produces a molecule that has crucial influence over whether a person has any control over their muscles, according to a paper published December 18, 2015 in the journal Science.
LA JOLLA—How the brain functions is still a black box: scientists aren’t even sure how many kinds of nerve cells exist in the brain. To know how the brain works, they need to know not only what types of nerve cells exist, but also how they work together. Researchers at the Salk Institute have gotten one step closer to unlocking this black box.
LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute have taken human skin cells and turned them into neurons that signal to one another using serotonin, a brain chemical that is crucial to our mental well-being.
LA JOLLA–An insect lands on your arm, moving the tiny hairs on your skin just enough to make you want to scratch. Salk Institute researchers have uncovered evidence of a dedicated neural pathway that transmits the itchy feeling triggered by such a light touch.
LA JOLLA–The brain cells of patients with bipolar disorder, characterized by severe swings between depression and elation, are more sensitive to stimuli than other people’s brain cells, researchers have discovered.
LA JOLLA–The Society for Neuroscience (SfN), an organization of nearly 40,000 scientists and clinicians, will award the Swartz Prize for Theoretical and Computational Neuroscience to Terrence Sejnowski, Salk professor and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory.
LA JOLLA–For the first time, scientists can use skin samples from older patients to create brain cells without rolling back the youthfulness clock in the cells first. The new technique, which yields cells resembling those found in older people’s brains, will be a boon to scientists studying age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
LA JOLLA–The loss of a critical receptor in a special class of inhibitory neurons in the
brain may be responsible for neurodevelopmental disorders including autism and schizophrenia, according to new research by Salk scientists.
LA JOLLA–When it comes to developing efficient, robust networks, the brain may often know best.
Researchers from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and Carnegie Mellon University have, for the first time, determined the rate at which the developing brain eliminates unneeded connections between neurons during early childhood.
LA JOLLA–The Salk Institute today announced that Rusty Gage, Salk professor in the Laboratory of Genetics, has been selected as one of five recipients of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation’s Allen Distinguished Investigator (ADI) program and will be awarded $1.5 million to conduct his research. These researchers have projects aimed at uncovering the elusive biological foundations of Alzheimer’s disease. The projects are funded at a total of $7 million over three years.
LA JOLLA–The Pew Charitable Trusts announced today that Salk Institute scientist Nicola Allen, an assistant professor in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, is one of 22 researchers to be named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences. Allen joins the ranks of more than 600 outstanding scientists who have been selected as Pew scholars in the 30 years since the program’s inception.
LA JOLLA–Bread, cereal and other sugary processed foods cause rapid spikes and subsequent crashes in blood sugar. In contrast, diets made up of vegetables, fruits and whole grains are healthier, in part because they take longer to digest and keep us more even-keeled.
LA JOLLA–Salk Institute Professors Joseph Ecker and Dennis O’Leary have received the prestigious honor of being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) class of 2015. One of the nation’s most prominent honorary societies, AAAS are among the 197 accomplished leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities and the arts accepted to this year’s class. Its members include winners of the Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize; MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellowships; and Grammy, Emmy, Oscar and Tony Awards.
LA JOLLA–Walking across an icy parking lot in winter–and remaining upright–takes intense concentration. But a new discovery suggests that much of the balancing act that our bodies perform when faced with such a task happens unconsciously, thanks to a cluster of neurons in our spinal cord that function as a “mini-brain” to integrate sensory information and make the necessary adjustments to our muscles so that we don’t slip and fall.
LA JOLLA–You’ve misplaced your cell phone. You start by scanning where you remember leaving it: on your bureau. You check and double-check the bureau before expanding your search around and below the bureau. Eventually, you switch from this local area to a more global one, widening your search to the rest of your room and beyond.
LA JOLLA–Pain typically has a clear cause–but not always. When a person touches something hot or bumps into a sharp object, it’s no surprise that it hurts. But for people with certain chronic pain disorders, including fibromyalgia and phantom limb pain, a gentle caress can result in agony.
LA JOLLA—Joseph Ecker, a Salk professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and Margarita Behrens, Salk staff scientist, have been named recipients in the 2014 round of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative for leading-edge work in neuroscience. The grant, announced September 30, provides more than $3 million in funding to the Salk scientists over three years.
LA JOLLA–Charles Stevens, a professor in the Salk Institute’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, will receive one of 36 Early Concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) from the National Science Foundation to further research on how complex behaviors emerge from the activity of the brain.
Stephen F. Heinemann, whose pioneering research on neurotransmitter receptors in the brain helped lay the groundwork for understanding diseases of the brain, died August 6 of complications of kidney failure at Vibra Hospital in San Diego, California. He was 75.
LA JOLLA—Frogs, dogs, whales, snails can all do it, but humans and primates can’t. Regrow nerves after an injury, that is—while many animals have this ability, humans don’t. But new research from the Salk Institute suggests that a small molecule may be able to convince damaged nerves to grow and effectively rewire circuits. Such a feat could eventually lead to therapies for the thousands of Americans with severe spinal cord injuries and paralysis.
LA JOLLA—For hundreds of years, healers in São Tomé e Príncipe—an island off the western coast of Africa—have prescribed cata-manginga leaves and bark to their patients. These pickings from the Voacanga africana tree are said to decrease inflammation and ease the symptoms of mental disorders.
LA JOLLA—When you’re expecting something—like the meal you’ve ordered at a restaurant—or when or when something captures your interest, unique electrical rhythms sweep through your brain.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute is pleased to welcome a new full professor and three new assistant professors, all exceptional leaders in their respective fields. The new faculty will facilitate innovative and collaborative breakthroughs in understanding human health and disease.
LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute has received a $3 million gift from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research to allow the Institute to continue conducting research to understand the biology of normal human aging and age-related diseases.
LA JOLLA—Using new stem cell technology, scientists at the Salk Institute have shown that neurons generated from the skin cells of people with schizophrenia behave strangely in early developmental stages, providing a hint as to ways to detect and potentially treat the disease early.
LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered the developmental source for a key type of neuron that allows animals to walk, a finding that could help pave the way for new therapies for spinal cord injuries or other motor impairments related to disease.
LA JOLLA—By discovering a new mechanism that allows blood to enter the brain immediately after stroke, researchers from the Salk Institute and University of California (UC) Irvine reveal a possible means to create new therapies that may reduce or prevent stroke-induced damage in the brain.
LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute have uncovered details into a surprising—and crucial—link between brain development and a gene whose mutation is tied to breast and ovarian cancer. Aside from better understanding neurological damage associated in a small percentage of people susceptible to breast cancers, the new work also helps to better understand the evolution of the brain.
LA JOLLA—A chemical that’s found in fruits and vegetables from strawberries to cucumbers appears to stop memory loss that accompanies Alzheimer’s disease in mice, scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have discovered. In experiments on mice that normally develop Alzheimer’s symptoms less than a year after birth, a daily dose of the compound—a flavonol called fisetin—prevented the progressive memory and learning impairments. The drug, however, did not alter the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain, accumulations of proteins which are commonly blamed for Alzheimer’s disease. The new finding suggests a way to treat Alzheimer’s symptoms independently of targeting amyloid plaques.
LA JOLLA—Fred H. Gage, professor in the Salk Institute’s Laboratory of Genetics and holder of the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease, has been elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).
LA JOLLA, CA—Establishing links between genes, the brain and human behavior is a central issue in cognitive neuroscience research, but studying how genes influence cognitive abilities and behavior as the brain develops from childhood to adulthood has proven difficult.
LA JOLLA, CA—It was once thought that each cell in a person’s body possesses the same DNA code and that the particular way the genome is read imparts cell function and defines the individual. For many cell types in our bodies, however, that is an oversimplification. Studies of neuronal genomes published in the past decade have turned up extra or missing chromosomes, or pieces of DNA that can copy and paste themselves throughout the genomes.
LA JOLLA, CA—With the flick of a light switch, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies can change the shape of a protein in the brain of a mouse, turning on the protein at the precise moment they want. This allows the scientists to observe the exact effect of the protein’s activation. The new method, described in the Oct. 16, 2013, issue of the journal Neuron, relies on specially engineered amino acids—the molecules that make up proteins—and light from an LED. Now that it has been shown to work, the technique can be adapted to give researchers control of a wide variety of other proteins in the brain to study their functions.
LA JOLLA, CA—The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected Axel Nimmerjahn for a highly competitive EUREKA (Exceptional Unconventional Research Enabling Knowledge Acceleration) grant. Nimmerjahn is an Assistant Professor in the Waitt Advanced Biophotonics Center and holds the Richard Allan Barry Developmental Chair. The award, in the amount of $1.38M over four years, will support Nimmerjahn’s goal of better understanding the relationship between spinal cord physiology and brain activity and behavior. Data from this research should foster development of new treatment and rehabilitation strategies for spinal cord injury, tumors, infections, and neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and spinal muscular dystrophy.
LA JOLLA,CA—In the past few years, as imaging tools and techniques have improved, scientists have been working tirelessly to build a detailed map of neural connections in the human brain—with the ultimate hope of understanding how the mind works.
LA JOLLA, CA—Salk scientist Tatyana Sharpee has received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund upcoming research in her lab. 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.
LA JOLLA, CA—Alzheimer’s disease affects more than 26 million people worldwide. It is predicted to skyrocket as boomers age—nearly 106 million people are projected to have the disease by 2050. Fortunately, scientists are making progress towards therapies. A collaboration among several research entities, including the Salk Institute and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, has defined a key mechanism behind the disease’s progress, giving hope that a newly modified Alzheimer’s drug will be effective.
LA JOLLA, CA—Schizophrenia is one of the most devastating neurological conditions, with only 30 percent of sufferers ever experiencing full recovery. While current medications can control most psychotic symptoms, their side effects can leave individuals so severely impaired that the disease ranks among the top ten causes of disability in developed countries.
LA JOLLA, CA—For many migraine sufferers, bright lights are a surefire way to exacerbate their headaches. And for some night-shift workers, just a stroll through a brightly lit parking lot during the morning commute home can be enough to throw off their body’s daily rhythms and make daytime sleep nearly impossible. But a new molecule that selectively blocks specialized light-sensitive receptors in the eyes could help both these groups of people, without affecting normal vision according to a study published August 25, 2013 in Nature Chemical Biology.
LA JOLLA, CA—More than 11,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries each year, and since over a quarter of those injuries are due to falls, the number is likely to rise as the population ages. The reason so many of those injuries are permanently disabling is that the human body lacks the capacity to regenerate nerve fibers. The best our bodies can do is route the surviving tissue around the injury site.
LA JOLLA,CA—Dennis O’Leary of the Salk Institute was the first scientist to show that the basic functional architecture of the cortex, the largest part of the human brain, was genetically determined during development. But as it so often does in science, answering one question opened up many others. O’Leary wondered what if the layout of the cortex wasn’t fixed? What would happen if it were changed?
LA JOLLA,CA—Changes in the epigenome, including chemical modifications of DNA, can act as an extra layer of information in the genome, and are thought to play a role in learning and memory, as well as in age-related cognitive decline. The results of a new study by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies show that the landscape of DNA methylation, a particular type of epigenomic modification, is highly dynamic in brain cells during the transition from birth to adulthood, helping to understand how information in the genomes of cells in the brain is controlled from fetal development to adulthood. The brain is much more complex than all other organs in the body and this discovery opens the door to a deeper understanding of how the intricate patterns of connectivity in the brain are formed.
LA JOLLA, CA—How is it possible for a human eye to figure out letters that are twisted and looped in crazy directions, like those in the little security test internet users are often given on websites?
LA JOLLA, CA—The power of the brain lies in its trillions of intercellular connections, called synapses that together form complex neural “networks.” While neuroscientists have long sought to map these individual connections to see how they influence specific brain functions, traditional techniques have been unsuccessful. Now, scientists at the Salk Institute and the Gladstone Institutes, using an innovative brain- tracing technique, have found a way to untangle these networks. These findings offer new insight into how specific brain regions connect to each other, while also revealing clues as to what may happen, neuron by neuron, when these connections are disrupted.
LA JOLLA—Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have demonstrated that sensory regions in the brain develop in a fundamentally different way than previously thought, a finding that may yield new insights into visual and neural disorders.
LA JOLLA, CA—Salk scientists Beverly M. Emerson, Christopher R. Kintner, and Paul E. Sawchenko were selected as inaugural holders of new endowed chairs created through the Joan Klein Jacobs and Irwin Mark Jacobs Senior Scientist Endowed Chair Challenge. In 2008, Dr. and Mrs. Jacobs created a challenge grant to establish endowed chairs for senior scientists. For every $2 million that a donor contributes toward an endowed chair at the Institute, the Jacobses will add $1 million to achieve the $3 million funding level required to fully endow a chair for a Salk senior scientist. To date, 17 out of 20 chairs have been established.
LA JOLLA, CA—A drug developed by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, known as J147, reverses memory deficits and slows Alzheimer’s disease in aged mice following short-term treatment. The findings, published May 14 in the journal Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy, may pave the way to a new treatment for Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
LA JOLLA, CA—Salk researcher Terrence J. Sejnowski,
professor and head of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a distinction awarded annually to global leaders in business, government, public affairs, the arts and popular culture as well as biomedical research.
LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce the promotions of faculty members, John Reynolds to the rank of full professor and Clodagh O’Shea and Tatyana Sharpee to associate professors based on recommendations by the Salk faculty and nonresident fellows, and approved by President William R. Brody and the Institute’s Board of Trustees.
LA JOLLA, CA—The irony of getting away to a remote place is you usually have to fight traffic to get there. After hours of dodging dangerous drivers, you finally arrive at that quiet mountain retreat, stare at the gentle waters of a pristine lake, and congratulate your tired self on having “turned off your brain.”
LA JOLLA, CA—Salk neuroscientist Terrence J. Sejnowski joined President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., on April 2, 2013, at the launch of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative—a major Administration neuroscience effort that advances and builds upon collaborative scientific work by leading brain researchers such as Salk’s own Sejnowski.
LA JOLLA, CA—The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to accelerating scientific progress to prevent and cure cancer, has selected four Salk scientists and two of the Institute’s nonresident fellows to be inducted in its first class of the fellows of the AACR Academy.
LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute for Biological Studies has received a $42 million gift-the largest in the Institute’s history-to establish the Helmsley Center for Genomic Medicine (HCGM), a research center dedicated to decoding the common genetic factors underlying many complex chronic human diseases.
LA JOLLA,CA—The Salk Institute announced today that professors Edward M. Callaway and Joseph Noel have been appointed to endowed chairs in acknowledgment of their outstanding contributions and dedication to scientific research.
LA JOLLA, CA—The first architecture critic may have been Goldilocks. She complained that some things were too big and some too small, while others were “just right.” Yet how do architects determine what is just right? And why do we feel instantly at home in some spaces, while never feeling right in others?
LA JOLLA, CA—Growing evidence suggests that there may be a link between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, but the physiological mechanisms by which diabetes impacts brain function and cognition are not fully understood. In a new study published in Aging Cell, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies show, for the first time, that diabetes enhances the development of aging features that may underlie early pathological events in Alzheimer’s.
LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have long believed that glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), the most aggressive type of primary brain tumor, begins in glial cells that make up supportive tissue in the brain or in neural stem cells. In a paper published October 18 in Science, however, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have found that the tumors can originate from other types of differentiated cells in the nervous system, including cortical neurons.
LA JOLLA, CA—By reprogramming skin cells from Parkinson’s disease patients with a known genetic mutation, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified damage to neural stem cells as a powerful player in the disease. The findings, reported online October 17, 2013 in Nature, may lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.
LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute announced today that researchers Björn Lillemeier, and Axel Nimmerjahn, have been named recipients of the prestigious 2012 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s New Innovator Award.
LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce that professors E.J. Chichilnisky, Jan Karlseder, and Kuo-Fen Lee have each been selected as the recipient of an endowed chair to honor their consistent scientific excellence and support their biological research.
LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have known for some time that throwing off the body’s circadian rhythm can negatively affect body chemistry. In fact, workers whose sleep-wake cycles are disrupted by night shifts are more susceptible to chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cancer.
LA JOLLA, CA—The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity, has awarded Terrence Sejnowski, professor and head of the Salk Institute’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, the 2013 IEEE Frank Rosenblatt Award.
LA JOLLA, CA—For more than 20 years, doctors have been using cells from blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after childbirth to treat a variety of illnesses, from cancer and immune disorders to blood and metabolic diseases.
LA JOLLA, CA—The hormone oxytocin—often referred to as the “trust” hormone or “love hormone” for its role in stimulating emotional responses—plays an important role in Williams syndrome (WS), according to a study published June 12, 2012, in PLoS ONE.
Saint Prex, Switzerland—Ferring Pharmaceuticals, a global, specialty biopharmaceuticals company, has donated $10 million to support research at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. In addition to funding the highest scientific priorities at the Salk, the Ferring gift will enable the creation of the Françoise Gilot-Salk endowed Chair, which will be used to support research on the role that TAM receptors play in immune regulation. These receptors, which were discovered in Professor Greg Lemke‘s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, are central inhibitors of the innate immune response to bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. The Ferring gift will also continue the endowment of the Frederik Paulsen Chair in Neurosciences, named after Ferring’s founder and first established in 2000.
LA JOLLA, CA—Salk researcher Edward M. Callaway, a professor in the Systems Neurobiology Laboratories has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Callaway shares the honor with some of the world’s most accomplished leaders from academia, business, public affairs, the humanities, and the arts.
LA JOLLA, CA—The discovery of a major gear in the biological clock that tells the body when to sleep and metabolize food may lead to new drugs to treat sleep problems and metabolic disorders, including diabetes.
The Salk Institute is pleased to announce that faculty members Geoffrey M. Wahl and Martyn Goulding were celebrated as the recipients of endowed chairs in recognition of their significant scientific accomplishments at a special reception on March 29. Joseph Ecker, professor in Salk’s Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory, who was named holder of the International Council Chair in Genetics in September 2011, was also honored at the ceremony.
LA JOLLA, CA—A single injection of cocaine or methamphetamine in mice caused their brains to put the brakes on neurons that generate sensations of pleasure, and these cellular changes lasted for at least a week, according to research by scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
LA JOLLA, CA—Researchers at the Salk Institute have discovered a startling feature of early brain development that helps to explain how complex neuron wiring patterns are programmed using just a handful of critical genes. The findings, published in Cell, may help scientists develop new therapies for neurological disorders, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and provide insight into certain cancers.
LA JOLLA, CA—One of the big mysteries in biology is why cells age. Now scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies report that they have discovered a weakness in a component of brain cells that may explain how the aging process occurs in the brain.
LA JOLLA, CA—Dr. Wylie Vale, a Salk Institute professor and world-renowned expert on brain hormones, died January 3 while on vacation in Hana, Hawaii. He was 70 years old.
LA JOLLA, CA—Scientists have discovered a missing link between the body’s biological clock and sugar metabolism system, a finding that may help avoid the serious side effects of drugs used for treating asthma, allergies and arthritis.
LA JOLLA, CA—A new drug candidate may be the first capable of halting the devastating mental decline of Alzheimer’s disease, based on the findings of a study published in PLoS ONE.
LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute is pleased to announce the appointment of five faculty members to be recipients of endowed chairs established by philanthropic leaders in support of scientific research.