Certel Lab

Monoamine neuron communication

We study the fundamental mechanisms underlying monoamine neuron communication and how neurological disease can disrupt this communication.

Background

Monoamines neurotransmitters in the nervous system are involved in regulating complex behaviors including learning and memory, and emotions. These neurotransmitters play a central role in many significant medical conditions including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, autism spectrum disorder, depression, anxiety, and addiction. The most important monoamines are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.

Neurons that express monoamine neurotransmitters project their axons to cover virtually the entire brain and each axon in humans may branch as many as 100,000 times!

Approach:

We apply multiple methods to examine monoamine neuron communication. Previous studies examine the contributions of methyl-binding proteins (epigenetics) and external sensory information.

The following studies are ongoing:

  • Dual neurotransmission: we are examining how the release of two neurotransmitters from a single neuron impacts social behavior.
  • Gut-brain axis: how does bacteria, the sex of the gut, and the expression of monoamine receptors influence behavior?
  • Extracellular-matrix contributions: we are considering how proteins within the extracellular matrix impact monoamine signaling.

Our model:

We use the nervous system of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, to investigate these questions.  The Drosophila nervous system is relatively tractable due to the smaller number of neurons and the genetic toolbox allows us to rapidly label or manipulate specific monoamine neurons.