Kausik Si and Marco Blanchette land five-year NIMH Award

The National Institute of Mental Health, through its Research Project Grant (RO1) program, will fund the joint foray of Associate Investigator Kausik Si, PhD, and Genomics Scientist Marco Blanchette, PhD, into the molecular whys and wherefores of long-term memory formation.

Si and Blanchette are studying Orb2, a protein that, in the fruit fly brain, stacks up to help stabilize new synaptic connections formed to consolidate information into more permanent storage. Orb2 comes in two forms, of which one, 2A, may be a critical determinant of whether a learned experience becomes a stable memory. They have observed that the immature, unspliced transcript for Orb2A is prevalent in fruit flies not trained to retain a long-term association of specific chemicals with food. But spliced, protein-coding Orb2A transcript levels increase after such training, and the researchers have identified Nova, an RNAbinding protein, as a potential player in this event. They hypothesize that Orb2 transcript splicing and maturation, mediated by Nova, is important for long-term memory.

“We want to find out what engages this process, whether it’s needed continuously for memory maintenance over time, and how it’s regulated,” Si says. “Perhaps one day this will help us understand memory-related diseases.”