Joint project by Stowers Researchers Blanchette and Si wins 2011 William B. Neaves Award

The 2011 William B. Neaves Award was awarded to Assistant Investigator Marco Blanchette, PhD, and Associate Investigator Kausik Si, PhD, who teamed up to explore how the internal state of an organism impacts the memory storage machinery at the molecular level.

Memories are formed when a series of biochemical events induce changes in the connection points or synapses between neurons. Which experiences are singled out to be stored as long-lasting memories depends on the value attached to the experience as well as the motivational state of the organism.

“But how the external experience and the internal state interact at the molecular level to convert some experiences into long-lasting memories is still largely unknown,” explains Si, a neurobiologist, who uses fruit flies to study the molecular basis of long-term memory.

Preliminary findings led Si to suspect that a process known as alternative splicing may play crucial role in determining which short-term memories are transformed into stable long-term memories. Alternative splicing—a carefully regulated adaptation of a routine RNA-editing step—enables a single gene to code for multiple proteins by snipping out long stretches from transcribed messenger RNA. To explore his hypothesis further, Kausik turned to Stowers colleague Blanchette, an expert in RNA processing. Together they will take a closer look at the role of alternative splicing in long-term memory.

Established in honor of Dr. William B. Neaves, President Emeritus of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the award was designed to encourage and support Stowers researchers, who wish to pursue innovative, high-risk research projects with the potential for broad impact.