Wright State University School of Medicine has established a new Center for Brain Research to promote interdisciplinary research collaborations among scientists and doctors who study how the brain functions in health and disease. This week, for example, scientists from Imperial College, London, UK, will present their findings on campus during an international forum organized by the new center.
"It's a very exciting time for brain research at Wright State. A generous gift from the Kettering Fund enables us to focus on a growing center of research excellence here and reach for even broader collaborations," says Howard Part, M.D., dean.
Last year a gift from the Kettering Fund funded seed grants to develop innovative new lines of biomedical research at Wright State. In 1996 the Kettering family endowed a scholarship fund for Wright State medical students who make a commitment to treat geriatric patients in the Miami Valley region.
"The Kettering family is pleased to continue its support of Wright State University School of Medicine. The family hopes this gift will open up new horizons for brain research at Wright State that will someday benefit the health of everyone," says Al Leland, executive vice president of Bank One Trust Company in Dayton, who represents the Kettering Fund.
Located in Wright State's Biological Sciences Building, the new center will provide shared laboratories and technical staff for researchers in departments as diverse as anatomy, physiology and biophysics, neurology, and psychiatry. It will house state-of-the-art imaging technology together with related facilities for processing anatomical samples and analyzing microscopic images.
"No single laboratory or experimental approach can solve the technical problems presented by the diversity of structures and functions in the brain and central nervous system," explains Robert Fyffe, Ph.D., who has been appointed as the first director of the Center for Brain Research. "Interdisciplinary collaboration is essential for the future of brain research."
A case in point is a research collaboration investigating TASK-1, one of a novel family of proteins involved in moving potassium in and out of brain cells. The gene that codes the expression of TASK-1 was isolated four years ago. Using this genetic tool and other experimental techniques, Dr. Fyffe and colleagues at Wright State University School of Medicine and Imperial College in London set about to determine TASK-1's function.
The international team of scientists reported recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that TASK-1 is found in the membrane of nerve cells called granule cells in the brain's cerebellum. TASK-1 functions as a molecular channel in the cell membrane allowing electrically charged potassium ions to move in and out of the cell.
The movement of potassium ions helps to regulate the communication of nerve impulses from cell to cell in the brain. When TASK-1 channels are open, the nerve cell tends to remain inactive. When TASK-1 channels are closed, the nerve cell becomes more excitable and more likely to send electrical impulses to surrounding cells.
"This suggests that TASK-1 is involved in regulating the resting potential of these nerve cells," Dr. Fyffe explains. "Modulating this type of potassium channel might have clinical implications someday for the treatment of neurological problems such as epilepsy or ataxia that involve over-active or uncoordinated communication among brain cells.
"We have much work ahead of us to fully understand TASK-1's function," he continues. "There are dozens of different ion channels, just as there are innumerable types of nerve cells. It's likely that we will find other ion channels that do what TASK-1 does, which may be regulated differently."
Dr. Fyffe expects to find as many new questions as answers at Wright State's Center for Brain Research. "What starts off as a fundamental research question in basic science can suddenly appear to have direct clinical relevance," he says. "None of us know where the questions will take us."