Rejuvenating the aging brain to drive recovery of vision
Changes in the strength of synaptic connectivity underlie the emergence of sensation and perception, improvements in performance during learning, and the formation and storage of memories. The plasticity of synapses declines significantly over development, imparting stability to mature cortical circuits. However, the loss of synaptic plasticity also constrains the ability of mature cortical circuits to adapt, severely limiting the ability to recover cortical functions lost early in life. The primary focus of Quinlan's lab is to reverse the loss of synaptic plasticity in the adult mammalian cortex and to utilize the reactivated plasticity to recover lost cortical functions. Using animal models, her lab has developed methods to “rejuvenate” the visual cortex, which they couple with instructive experience to reverse deficits in early visual development. This work highlights the importance of a specific set of synapses (excitatory synapses onto fast spiking interneurons) and has opened up new avenues of inquiry in which they explore the role of this important regulatory locus in the clinical treatment of amblyopia and developmental pathologies such as schizophrenia and epilepsy.
About the Speaker
Elizabeth Quinlan is a neurophysiologist who studies the impact of age and experience on the function of cortical circuits. She received a Ph.D. in biology/neuroscience in 1993 from the University of Illinois at Chicago and postdoctoral training in neuroscience at the University of Virginia in the laboratory of Shelly Halpain and at Brown University in the laboratory of Mark Bear. She joined the faculty of the Department of Biology at the University of Maryland in 2001, where she is currently a professor. Her lab has pioneered the use of sensory deprivation to promote plasticity and “rejuvenate” circuits in the adult cortex to promote recover function lost by disuse or injury. This work has been widely recognized, and was honored with the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association's Advancement of Science Award. She is the scientific co-director of the MPower initiative on nervous system injury and neuroscience, a collaboration between UMD and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, that will be housed in the renovated Cole Field House.