Mount Sinai Researcher Awarded 2016 BRAIN Initiative Grant
Paul Slesinger, PhD, Professor of Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, has been awarded a 2016 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative grant to devise new tools and methods for rapidly identifying cells and genes that control certain brain circuits.
Announced today, the nearly $1 million grant to Mount Sinai is part of the third round of funding from the NIH to support the goals of the BRAIN Initiative. Launched in 2013 by President Obama, the BRAIN Initiative is a large-scale effort to equip researchers with insights necessary for treating a wide variety of brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.
“The World Health Organization estimates that devastating brain disorders affect more than 1 billion people worldwide, so there is a critical need to define the mechanisms behind brain disorders so that we may translate those findings into preventative or restorative interventions,” says Dr. Slesinger. “I am honored to play a part in the BRAIN Initiative, which has already led to the development of innovative, state-of-the-art techniques, significantly accelerating the pace of neuroscience research.”
Dr. Slesinger will work in collaboration with University of California, San Diego neuroscience researcher David Kleinfeld, PhD, to develop and validate an innovative neurotechnique for optically measuring the release of neuropeptides in cell-specific and circuit-specific processes in the brain.
Neuropeptides are essential neuromodulators in the brain that control cognition and sensorimotor processing through changes in vascular tone and blood flow in the nervous system. Pharmacological and molecular genetic studies have implicated alterations in neuropeptide signaling as a contributor to brain dysfunctions, including migraines, addiction, motivation, and stress. Although neuropeptides are widely expressed in the brain, remarkably little is known about when and where neuropeptides are released. Monitoring the release of neuropeptides in real time in awake animals performing complex behaviors would be transformative, enabling the elucidation of the function of neuropeptides in regulating neural circuits in the brain.
Drs. Kleinfeld and Slesinger developed cell-based neurotransmitter fluorescent engineered reporters (CNiFERs) to optically image neurotransmitter release in real time in vivo. Under the leadership of Drs. Slesinger and Kleinfeld and supported by the BRAIN grant, the research team will develop and validate an innovative technique based on CNiFERs that were originally developed for detecting the release of classical, small molecule neurotransmitters.
Specifically, three neuropeptide CNiFERs will be developed and used for test-bed validation projects within Mount Sinai’s laboratories:
- Orexin, which is important in sleep regulation as well as drug seeking and reinstatement
- Somatostatin, which has been implicated in depression, motivation and learning
- Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide, which has been implicated in neuroplasticity and learning.
“This award is an important and well-deserved honor for Dr. Slesinger, who is playing a key role in understanding mechanisms of alcoholism and other neuropsychiatric disorders so that the lives of people with these disorders can be improved,” says Paul Kenney, PhD, Chairman of the Department of Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “We are thrilled to play a part in this transformative initiative, which promises to make a huge impact on the lives of so many.”
About the Mount Sinai Health System
The Mount Sinai Health System is an integrated health system committed to providing distinguished care, conducting transformative research, and advancing biomedical education. Structured around seven hospital campuses and a single medical school, the Health System has an extensive ambulatory network and a range of inpatient and outpatient services—from community-based facilities to tertiary and quaternary care.
The System includes approximately 7,100 primary and specialty care physicians; 12 joint-venture ambulatory surgery centers; more than 140 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, Long Island, and Florida; and 31 affiliated community health centers. Physicians are affiliated with the renowned Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is ranked among the highest in the nation in National Institutes of Health funding per investigator. The Mount Sinai Hospital is in the “Honor Roll” of best hospitals in America, ranked No. 15 nationally in the 2016-2017 “Best Hospitals” issue of U.S. News & World Report. The Mount Sinai Hospital is also ranked as one of the nation’s top 20 hospitals in Geriatrics, Gastroenterology/GI Surgery, Cardiology/Heart Surgery, Diabetes/Endocrinology, Nephrology, Neurology/Neurosurgery, and Ear, Nose & Throat, and is in the top 50 in four other specialties. New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai is ranked No. 10 nationally for Ophthalmology, while Mount Sinai Beth Israel, Mount Sinai St. Luke's, and Mount Sinai West are ranked regionally. Mount Sinai’s Kravis Children’s Hospital is ranked in seven out of ten pediatric specialties by U.S. News & World Report in "Best Children's Hospitals."
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