The Jay Baraban Laboratory studies key aspects of neuronal plasticity induced by environmental stimuli, including drugs. The ability of the microRNA system to regulate protein translation in the vicinity of synapses indicates it is well positioned to play a central role in regulating synaptic plasticity. Accordingly, we are studying how this system regulates synaptic function. In particular, we have identified the translin/trax RNAse complex as a key regulator of microRNA processing and are using genetically engineered mice that lack this complex to understand its role in neuronal function. For example, these mice display defects in responsiveness to cocaine and in certain forms of synaptic plasticity. We use a combination of behavioral and molecular approaches to conduct studies aimed at understanding how the microRNA system regulates these processes.
The Mollie Meffert Lab studies mechanisms underlying enduring changes in brain function. We are interested in understanding how programs of gene expression are coordinated and maintained to produce changes in synaptic, neuronal and cognitive function. Rather than concentrating on single genes, our research is particularly focused on understanding the upstream processes that allow neuronal stimuli to synchronously orchestrate both up and down-regulation of the many genes required to mediate changes in growth and excitation. This process of gene target specificity is implicit to the appropriate production of gene expression programs that control lasting alterations in brain function.