MPFI Scientist Secures a $2.4 Million Grant to Investigate Inhibitory Circuits in the Cerebral Cortex

June 15, 2018

MPFI Scientist Secures a $2.4 Million Grant to Investigate Inhibitory Circuits in the Cerebral Cortex

The project will focus on applying advanced imaging technologies paired with precise genetic techniques to disentangle how inhibitory circuits in the cortex are constructed.

Dr. Hiroki Taniguchi, Ph.D., a Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) has been awarded a $2.4 million five-year grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Over the life of the grant the Taniguchi Lab will take a closer look at a class of brain cells known as inhibitory interneurons, studying how members of this diverse cell type assemble into specific circuits in various regions of the cerebral cortex.

The cerebral cortex is arguably the brain’s most complex structure, endowing us with extraordinary abilities such as sensory perception, language, and cognition. Underlying these capabilities are the intricate connections made by the neurons that reside within, enabling complex encoding and processing of information. Interneurons in the cortex normally act to balance, refine and shape information processing, but their dysfunction has been implicated in a wide array of brain disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy.

Despite their critical importance, comprehensive wiring diagrams of interneuron circuits and the exact principles that guide their assembly have remained rather elusive. One challenging aspect hindering the design of a concrete cortical blueprint, is the sheer diversity of interneurons and principle neurons they form connections with. Each individual type of interneuron is thought to make specific connections depending on a principle neuron’s location, function, and depth within the cortex. Until very recently, neuroscientists lacked readily available tools sensitive enough to study these connections at a cell-type specific resolution. Overcoming this obstacle, the Taniguchi lab has designed novel genetic tools and incorporated them into the established technique of retrograde monosynaptic labeling, producing unprecedented results.

Their powerful technique now allows for the precise tracing of connections from individual types of interneurons. MPFI scientists will be able to determine how inhibitory connections form during development and elucidate the organization of specific inhibitory inputs on varying types of principle neurons. Uncovering these principles will dramatically improve our understanding of cortical circuits as well as pioneer novel approaches for the diagnosis and treatment of prominent brain disorders.
“Cortical interneurons are a unique cell class with rich diversity, containing numerous types with distinctive features and functional properties.” Notes Dr. Taniguchi, “This crucial funding will allow us to probe individual types of interneurons, better establishing the principles behind their wiring. Addressing this critical topic will lead to a better understanding of inhibitory circuit design and the future development of novel therapies for neuropsychiatric disorders.”

The grant described in this release is supported by the National Institutes of Health, Award Number R01MH11591701. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.