Dr. Jason Christie has joined the Max Planck Florida Institute as a Research Group Leader. His team of researchers and postdocs will study the basic properties of synapses – the point-to-point connections between neurons – to gain new insight into brain function. His group has a particular focus on how the strength of individual synapses can change when used repeatedly.
“The remarkable ability of synapses to alter their response properties is a defining feature of neuronal function,” said Dr. Christie. “This plasticity — or malleability — affects behavior and allows the brain to respond, adapt and learn from its experiences. Long-term alterations in the transmission properties of synapses provide a basis for learning and memory, whereas short-term alterations are necessary to rapidly organize information in brain circuits.”
His research group will use advanced techniques, including patch-clamp electrophysiology, to study electrical responses in neurons and two-photon laser scanning microscopy to directly view fluorescently labeled cells.
Prior to his appointment at the Max Planck Florida Institute, Dr. Christie conducted research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and the Vollum Institute at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, Oregon, where he completed his doctoral and post- doctoral work. While at the Vollum Institute, he was awarded a National Research Service Award. He currently serves as an ad hoc editor for the Journal of Neurophysiology and the Journal of Neuroscience and is also a member of the Society for Neuroscience. He has joint faculty appointments with Scripps Florida and Florida Atlantic University (FAU).
The Max Planck Florida Institute is currently operating in a 40,000-square-foot temporary facility with 37 employees, including 16 research staff and eight scientific support staff on FAU’s MacArthur Campus in Jupiter. Nearly 60 percent of the staff were hired from either Palm Beach County or other parts of Florida.
The organization has a wide scope of scientific research underway. The Digital Neuroanatomy Group, under the direction of 1991 Nobel Laureate in Medicine Dr. Bert Sakmann, is conducting a program dedicated to creating a three-dimensional map of the normal brain. The Molecular Neurobiology Group, under the direction of Dr. Samuel M. Young, Jr. is also studying synapses by combining the most advanced optical, electrophysiological and molecular techniques to uncover the molecular mechanisms of how they operate. An additional research group will start operation in September. Collectively, these research approaches will provide fundamental impulses that can open up new technological possibilities in medical diagnostics and care for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, mental retardation and others.
Max Planck Florida Institute broke ground on their new 100,000-square-foot biomedical facility in June. The permanent biomedical research center and laboratories is expected to be completed by early 2012. For more information, visit www.maxplanckflorida.org.