Role of experience in synaptic translation in vivo

Aims and objectives

Sleep helps us integrate new information from the environment in the brain on a daily basis. But how sleep achieves this function, in particular at the level of molecules, is not well understood. An important molecular step that promotes the stabilisation of new information in the brain is the production of new proteins (i.e., protein synthesis). New proteins will provide the building blocks necessary for the restructuration of communication between brain cells. Work in the past 20 years has identified that protein synthesis can occur directly at the synapses – the site of brain cell communication. Protein synthesis will thus allow to modify and stabilise each synapse individually in response to new experiences during wakefulness. Despite considerable evidence that sleep is a preferred time for protein production compared to wakefulness, the way how sleep regulates protein synthesis at synapses has never been investigated.

This project aims to address the hypothesis that sleep benefits brain plasticity (i.e. integration of new information into existing brain circuits) during development and adulthood by primarily regulating protein synthesis specifically at synapses.

 

Potential benefits

Protein synthesis at synapses is at the basis of our general cognitive abilities. This is because it is involved in the creation of synapses during development and their constant modification (i.e. experience, learning) during adulthood. Dysregulation of protein production at synapses are known to be responsible for several neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism spectrum disorders). Since sleep amounts are highest during early life and lowest during ageing, insights into the role of sleep in synaptic protein synthesis will provide an important starting point for future investigations at both the fundamental and the clinical level.