The SERT & synaptic plasticity

While 5-HT is best known for its role in mood, cognition and reward, it also plays an important role in the development of the central nervous system. Several studies have found that different serotonin receptors can affect developmental processes such as axon and dendrite maturation, axon guidance and spine formation. This latter is very important, as dendritic spines are essential hubs for neuronal connections, especially excitatory connections that use glutamate as a neurotransmitter. Moreover, dendritic spine changes do not only occur during development, they are also a central element in adult synaptic plasticity.

Serotonin transporter (SERT) knock-out rats have much higher extracellular levels of 5-HT from very early on. Given its important role in neurodevelopment, we hypothesize these animals to show changes in neuronal connectivity. In this project we aim to investigate this with a variety of different techniques, such as Western Blot, quantitative PCR, immunohistochemistry and RNAscope. We will also grow neuronal cell cultures as it is easier to visualize dendritic spines in such culture than in normal brain tissues. To evaluate the changes over time we will study analyse the brain of young (first two weeks after birth) as well as adult rat brain tissues.

This project is a collaboration with Dr Darren Day from the School of Biological Sciences.