Bernardo L. Sabatini
Board Member: 2019 - Present
Research in the Sabatini laboratory focuses the mechanisms underlying the formation of memories and the acquisition of the circuitry necessary for various brain functions. This includes integrative studies of how synaptically connected networks of neurons (i.e. circuits) develop and function as well as biophysical studies of how an individual synapse operates. There is particular interest in how the intrinsic properties of synapses, the action of neuromodulatory molecules, and the topography of the neural network interact to determine the function, and dysfunction, of a circuit. Mice are the principle organism used in these studies of synapse formation and modulation. Within a few weeks after birth mice can perform sophisticated spatial navigation, forage independently for food, and engage in reward reinforcement learning.
Dr. Sabatini and his team seek to uncover the mechanisms of synapse and circuit plasticity that permit these new behaviors to be learned and refined. What developmental changes occur after birth that make learning possible? What neuronal circuit changes are triggered by the process of learning? Much or most of this work can be extrapolated to humans. In the first few years of life, humans tremendously expand their behavioral repertoire and gain the ability to engage in complex, learned, and reward-driven actions. Perturbations of these processes contribute to human neuropsychiatric disorders such as Tuberous Sclerosis Complex and Parkinson’s Disease. The mechanistic work done in mice has direct applicability to understanding human brain function and dysfunction.