Sathyanaryanan Puthanveettil, an assistant professor on the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute, has been awarded a pair of notable grants to study a critical component of long-term memory formation.
Puthanveettil will receive $225,000 over three years from the prestigious Whitehall Foundation to study the role in long-term memory of a motor protein called kinesin. In this study, he will use the marine snail, Aplysia, a favorite of memory researchers because of its exceptionally large neurons and simple nervous system.
In addition to the Whitehall award, Puthanveettil has received a one-year, $100,000 grant from the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation.
Puthanveettil also plans to use the award to study kinesin, in this case to develop molecular screens to identify small molecules that can modulate kinesin function in the mammalian brain. This work will be conducted in collaboration with Scripps Research colleagues Peter Hodder, senior scientific director of lead identification, and William Roush, chemistry professor, executive director of Medicinal Chemistry, and associate dean of graduate studies at Scripps Florida.
"To be selected for an award by the Whitehall Foundation is a great honor," Puthanveettil said. "I'm also delighted with the grant from the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation, another important institution that supports the search for new therapeutics. Both awards will help advance my research substantially."
Puthanveettil has long been interested in axonal transport and its role in the molecular mechanisms underlying long-term memory storage, in particular the cellular transport of various gene products such as proteins and RNAs in the brain. In a 2008 study published in the journal Cell, Puthanveettil showed for the first time that the induction of long-term facilitation-the cellular basis of memory and learning involving enhancement of communication between neurons-requires upregulation of specific isoform of kinesin.
Ultimately, he hopes his research will lead to an understanding of the basic pathology of various neurological disorders.
"For example, in the case of Huntington's disease, kinesin is responsible for transport of molecules that play a role in the disease," he said. "We want to know how the transport of these molecules is modified during the disease's development. Likewise for Alzheimer's disease-if you can find a way to manipulate the transport system, you may be able to overcome some of the defects involved in the disease's pathology."