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Thursday, June 22, 2017

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UTSA BIOLOGIST AWARDED $1.3 MILLION NIH GRANT FOR BRAIN RESEARCH
UTSA

December, 2011

­ Carlos Paladini, UTSA associate professor of biology, has
been awarded a $1.3 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of
Health to study which inputs in the brain drive dopamine cells to fire
faster.

Dopamine cells release a chemical or neurotransmitter in the brain called
dopamine, which drives motivated and reward-related behaviors.  The loss of
dopamine cells in the brain is associated with Parkinson¹s disease cases,
and the effects of drugs of abuse on dopamine cells can lead to addiction.
Paladini hopes the research results will eventually assist in helping to
find therapies to cure drug addiction and treat patients with Parkinson¹s
disease.

The researcher and his graduate students are focusing on the spikes of
electrical activity associated with dopamine cells in the brain and the
effects they have in driving motivated behavior. They hope to learn how
dopamine cells get access to information in the brain that drives
reward-related behavior.

³We want to find out what are the inputs to the dopamine cells that actually
drive the cells to either increase their activity in terms of a reward or
reward signal, and what are the inputs that drive the cell to decrease their
activity if the reward that was expected was not received,² said Paladini.
³We don¹t know which inputs, or which parts of the brain, connect to
dopamine cells to inform the cell and give it all the information it needs
to calculate whether it should fire faster or slower.²

To conduct the research, the scientists are using optical fibers to
stimulate dopamine cell inputs that produce a protein that is sensitive to
blue light. A virus with a gene is injected into the inputs and that gene
makes the cells produce a protein that is sensitive to blue light.  When the
protein is shone with blue light, it activates the cell, similar to what
occurs when a reward takes place.

³If we go to the region where the dopamine cells are and shine a blue light,
only those inputs that are producing that protein will be activated,² said
Paladini.  ³We will know for certain that when we shine blue light and
activate only one input, whatever effect we see in a dopamine cell is going
to be due to the effect on those inputs that have that specific protein, and
not any other inputs that are there.²

The University of Texas at San Antonio is one of the fastest growing higher
education institutions in Texas and one of nine academic universities and
six health institutions in the UT System. As a multicultural institution,
UTSA aims to be a national research university providing access to
educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global
environment.

UTSA serves nearly 31,000 students in 135 degree programs in the colleges of
Architecture, Business, Education and Human Development, Engineering,
Honors, Liberal and Fine Arts, Public Policy, Sciences and the Graduate
School. Founded in 1969, UTSA is an intellectual and creative resource
center and a socioeconomic development catalyst for Texas and beyond. Learn
more at www.utsa.edu/today <http://www.utsa.edu/today>.


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