Fundamentals of Synapses
Spring Quarter: March 18 – April 9, 2024
In this course, students will learn about the fundamentals of synapses, from molecular analysis to structure and function. Marine and aquatic models have historically provided a unique opportunity to investigate synaptic function due to the large size of their neurons, including the synaptic connections. Today, these synapse models are used to study basic principles of neuron-to-neuron communication (synaptic transmission), as well as disease mechanisms. In addition to lectures and discussions of key literature, this course will feature hands-on laboratory-based exercises in molecular genetics, imaging and physiology of synapses, as well as independent "discovery" projects to explore new topics in synapse biology.
The course will feature brief morning lectures followed by student led discussions of primary research articles, which will include both classics and recent literature. After a lunch break, students will return to the laboratory for the afternoon. During the first week, students will engage in 3 lab rotations, which will provide a series of demonstrations and exercises on synapses from marine and aquatic organisms using molecular, physiology and imaging techniques. During the last 2 weeks, students will use these preparations to carry out independent projects in small groups, guided by the instructors and teaching assistants. The course will end with a symposium where the student groups will give oral presentations describing the major goals of the project, methods, and any results obtained.
Learning Objectives and Outcomes:
At the end of the course, students will have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of synapse biology, including: excitability, synaptic transmission (presynaptic and postsynaptic mechanisms), synaptic plasticity, and disease mechanisms. Additionally, students will also have gained hands-on laboratory experience and scientific writing in the field of synapse biology.
Morning Lectures: Brief Morning Lectures followed by student discussion on primary research articles.
Week 1: Lecture/Discussion Topics: Excitability, Synapses, Neurotransmitter release and the Squid giant synapse, Vesicle Endocytosis and Squid synapse, Synaptic vesicle clustering
Week 2: Lecture/Discussion Topics: Postsynaptic Plasticity- Receptors, Neurotransmitter Junction, Synaptic Plasticity, Synapse Regeneration
Week 3: Lecture/Discussion Topics: Synapse regeneration, Modeling Parkinson’s disease at Lamprey Synapses, Synaptic Plasticity, Synaptic homeostasis
Lab Rotations (Week 1):
During the first week of the course, the afternoons will feature lab rotations to familiarize students with several different tractable synapse preparations. Students, working in small groups, will work with instructors to accomplish the following:
- Molecular Biology of synapses (2 days): quantify RNA editing of transcripts encoding synaptic proteins from squid raised under different environmental conditions.(could extend to independent projects; different crustaceans) (Rosenthal)
- Physiology at Synapses (2 days): NMJ prep (Cherry Shrimp) - dissect and record; ionic basis of resting potential; quantal release; minis (could extend to independent projects; different crustaceans) (Rosenthal)
- Imaging Synapses (2 days): This rotation makes use of the lamprey giant reticulospinal synapse model. We will perform acute perturbations of presynaptic processes, followed by fluorescent labeling of synapses and/or electron microscopy. Students will quantify changes in synapse size, distribution, and other morphological features. (Morgan)
Independent Projects (Weeks 2-3): Students will choose their independent projects from the rotations listed above and will follow up on the rotation experiments with added variables (e.g. different experimental manipulations). Before beginning, the instructors will assess each project for feasibility. Instructors and TAs will closely guide the independent projects. The intent of these projects is to engage students in novel “discovery” science in the field of synapse biology.