CWRU researchers create first complete model of serotonin’s role

Absence of serotonin alters development and function of brain circuits

Galan-214x300Researchers at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have created the first complete model to describe the role serotonin plays in brain development and structure. Serotonin, also called 5-hydroxytryptamine [5-HT], is an important neuromodulator of brain development and the structure and function of neuronal (nerve cell) circuits. The results were published in an issue of The Journal of Neurophysiology online.

“Our goal in the project was to close the gap in knowledge that exists on role of serotonin in the brain cortex, particularly as it concerns brain circuitry, its electrical activity and function,” Roberto Fernández Galán, assistant professor in the Department of Neurosciences, said. “For the first time, we can provide a complete description of an animal model from genes to behavior—including at the level of neuronal network activity, which has been ignored in most studies to date.”

Galán and his team used high-density multi-electrode arrays in a mouse model of serotonin deficiency to record and analyze neuronal activity. The study supports the importance of the serotonin, which is specified and maintained by a specific gene, the Pet-1 gene – for normal functioning of the neurons, synapses and networks in the cortex, as well as proper development of brain circuitry.

Serotonin abnormalities have been linked to autism, epilepsy, depression and anxiety. By more fully elucidating the role of serotonin in the brain, this study may contribute to a better understanding of the development or treatment of these conditions.

“By looking at the circuit level of the brain, we now have new insight into how the brain becomes wired and sensitive to changing serotonin levels,” Galán added.

In addition to Galán, who served as senior author of the study, Pavel A. Puzerey, former graduate student, and Nathan X. Kodama, an undergraduate student majoring in physics, contributed to this project. Galán’s research is funded with a Biomedical Researcher Award from The Hartwell Foundation.