Dr. Young’s research group studies synapses – the highly specialized contact points in the brain where neurons pass electrical and chemical signals to one another. The human brain consists of approximately 100 billion neurons and makes ~10,000 synaptic contacts per neuron.
For example, 1 microliter of cortex contains ~ 1 billion synapses. Synapses are highly specialized sites of contact consisting of a pre- and postsynaptic side. They are the fundamental units of information transfer between nerve cells. Evidence has emerged that most mental health diseases are due to problems in the synapses ability to transfer information between neurons. Synaptic malfunction ultimately leads to severely comprised brain function and in some cases ultimately death.
Current research has shown that the underlying causes of synaptic malfunction are due to mutations in molecules that are involved in normal synaptic operation. To understand the most complex problems in synaptic biology, this requires multidisciplinary approaches which allow for precise quantitative measurements. To do so, Dr. Young’s research combines the most advanced optical, electrophysiological, and molecular techniques to uncover the molecular mechanisms of how synapses operate.
His long term goal is that the knowledge gained in the mechanisms of synaptic function will allow us to understand and possibly treat the causes of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s Disease, mental retardation and synaptopathies.