We are interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms responsible for acquisition and storage of information in the brain, i.e. learning and memory. Research over the past five decades led to the idea that activity-dependent changes in the strength of synapses between neurons may represent a mechanism for information storage. The neurotransmitters glutamate and gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA) mediate most synaptic signalling in the vertebrate central nervous system. Physiologically, at synaptic sites, their receptors are incorporated into complex protein networks that span the inter-neuronal cleft and are essential for the in the induction, expression and/or modulation of synaptic plasticity. On the other hand, dysfunction of the same molecular systems appears to be responsible for the cognitive decline linked to the 'normal' aging process as well as a wide spectrum of neurological and psychiatric disorders including Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, Parkinson's, epilepsy, insomnia and major clinical depression.
Research in our group is currently focused on the structural and functional characterisation of synaptic receptors, our main tools being X-ray crystallography (to gain high resolution information) and increasingly electron microscopy (to study non-periodical, supra-molecular assemblies). We aim to understand principles governing the molecular organisation of neuronal synapses, and to devise ways of modulating synaptic function.