Matthew J. Kennedy, Ph.D.

Research

My lab is investigating the molecular events that “strengthen” the connections between neurons during learning and memory. Strengthening neural connections is thought to involve the recruitment of molecules that enhance neural activity, including proteins that recognize and react to incoming neural signals. But this theory has never been fully investigated in a living animal, because of the difficulty in manipulating these molecular events in real time as an animal learns. Now, coupling techniques in cell and molecular biology with a novel approach I designed to control the movement of specific proteins in selected nerve cells, we will address whether recruitment of a particular protein to the site of signaling between activated nerve cells actually does promote learning and examine which cells are involved in memory storage. This work could have tremendous impact on our understanding of cognition and could lead to new treatment strategies for neuropsychiatric conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, autism and addiction—disorders in which these processes are impaired.

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