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Research Project Strengthens Link with Max Planck Institute

Friday 1 April 2016 3:26pm

Beulah_and_Tet_WooAn ongoing collaboration between the research laboratories of Dr Beulah Leitch (University of Otago) and Professor Erin Schuman at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research (MPI-BR) has created a strategic new initiative between this Department and the Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt, Germany. Project Title: Detection of newly-synthesised proteins at synapses using EM-Immunogold combined with modified puro-PLA and FUNCAT – PLA Methods.

The collaboration combines the expertise and knowledge of researchers from both labs on a project aimed at visualising newly synthesised protein molecules, such as neurotransmitter receptors, with subcellular resolution. In doing so, this project will improve our understanding of how local protein synthesis, which occurs at synaptic sites far from the cell bodies of brain neurons, contributes to learning and memory.

The collaboration involves reciprocal visits between the two laboratories, with PI, Dr Beulah Leitch and Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Tet Woo Lee having recently returned from working in Professor Schuman laboratory. Further visits are planned over the coming year and a visitor from MPI-BR to Dr Leitch's Laboratory will take place in 2016.

The project is based on the novel FUNCAT-PLA and Puro-PLA techniques recently developed in the Schuman laboratory for labelling newly synthesised proteins in cultured neurons. As part of this collaborative project, these techniques are being adapted for investigations at the ultrastructural level using expertise from Dr Leitch's lab at University of Otago in anti-biotin-immunogold electron microscopy.

Ultimately, this research may reveal whether local synthesis of neurotransmitter receptors contributes to synaptic plasticity, a process which is believed to be the cellular basis for memory. In addition, this research will lay the groundwork for studying whether defects in local protein synthesis contributes to synaptic dysfunction underlying various brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

Funding for this project has been provided by:

• The Neurological Foundation New Zealand
• The Royal Society of New Zealand - German Science & Technology Programme
• Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Diens (DAAD) German Academic Exchange Service Scholarship Programme
• Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung BMBF – Förderung der Wissenschaftlich-Technologischen Zusammenarbeit (WTZ) mit Neuseeland

Photo: Dr Beulah Leitch and Dr Tet Woo Lee