2009 NARSAD Young Investigator Grant: Simultaneous Recording of the Activity of Hundreds of Individual Neurons in an Awake and Behaving Mouse Model of Schizophrenia
David J. Foster, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, has been exploring the neural activity underlying the crucial role of the hippocampus in memory and spatial learning, functions that can be subverted in schizophrenia. He has established a laboratory facility in which he and his team can record and examine fast-occurring, sequential activity across hundreds of neurons in the brains of experimental animal models.
Dr. Foster’s 2009 NARSAD Grant project built upon his findings as a post-doctoral fellow and was reported in the journal Nature. Immediately after a rat explores a portion of an environment, during subsequent rest the rat’s hippocampal neurons are active in rapid, precisely-ordered sequences that recapitulate in reverse order the exact sequence of activity experienced during exploration.
Dr. Foster and his team developed a model of how this replay activity might synchronize with signaling in the dopaminergic system —the system governing the neurotransmitter dopamine—to support learning in spatial tasks. The laboratory recorded the simultaneous activity in large groups of hippocampal neurons in normally behaving mice to examine the neural mechanisms of memory and planning in precise spatial and temporal detail.
Currently, Dr. Foster and his team are using mouse models to investigate the negative effects on memory in schizophrenia. They have characterized neural activity in a mouse model that exhibits a range of impairments characteristic of schizophrenia patients, including deficient working memory, which the researchers are now exploring on a genetic and molecular basis. The insights derived from these investigations have the potential to open the way to new therapeutic approaches.
Dr. Foster is a graduate of Imperial College in London. Initially trained as a physicist, he earned a Ph.D. in computational neuroscience at Edinburgh University, Scotland, then trained as a neurophysiologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2008.
“It has been my great privilege to be the recipient of a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant. It has supported the establishment of my laboratory and has had a critical role in the development of several research projects, including a study we recently published in Nature. As a result of this grant, my laboratory has made advances both in basic research into the brain mechanisms underlying memory function, and also in novel approaches to the study of brain diseases such as schizophrenia.”