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TSRI, Harvard, Stanford and Brandeis Collaborate to Study MicroRNA’s Role in Memory, Sleep and Synapse Function

JUPITER, FL – April 27, 2016 – A group including scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) has been awarded a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health to study the role of microRNAs in a range of physiological activities, including memory, sleep, synapse function and movement.

Ron Davis, chair of TSRI’s Department of Neuroscience, will be a principal investigator of the new five-year study with David Van Vactor of Harvard University, Leslie Griffith of Brandeis University and Dennis Wall of Stanford University.

“This new collaboration with some of the best scientists at some of the best universities in the world has the potential to bring us a wealth of new and potentially groundbreaking knowledge about microRNAs,” Davis said. “Because microRNAs are so critical for normal development and physiology, they are a potentially rich source of therapeutic targets. Our new collaboration will help us exploit that potential.”

Scripps Florida will receive approximately $2 million for the project over the next five years.

MicroRNAs, as their name suggests, are tiny bits of genetic material. Instead of being translated into proteins like many RNAs, microRNAs act to regulate gene expression—acting like a dimmer switch on a light.

In humans there are almost 2,000 distinct microRNAs, which collectively regulate somewhere between 30 and 80 percent of human genes.

Despite their ubiquity, their importance has become evident only in the last decade or so, and details are still emerging. Davis noted a host of critical questions remain: How complex is the microRNA regulatory landscape for neural circuits mediating essential behaviors? To what extent are microRNA mechanisms used in the brain? Do they regulate distinct sets of target genes in different cell types and/or developmental stages?

The new collaborative study will use Drosophila, the common fruit fly, which is a widely recognized substitute for human memory studies, to help answer some of these questions.

The number of the grant is 1P01NS090994.

About The Scripps Research Institute

The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) is one of the world's largest independent, not-for-profit organizations focusing on research in the biomedical sciences. TSRI is internationally recognized for its contributions to science and health, including its role in laying the foundation for new treatments for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, hemophilia, and other diseases. An institution that evolved from the Scripps Metabolic Clinic founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1924, the institute now employs more than 2,500 people on its campuses in La Jolla, CA, and Jupiter, FL, where its renowned scientists—including two Nobel laureates and 20 members of the National Academy of Science, Engineering or Medicine—work toward their next discoveries. The institute's graduate program, which awards PhD degrees in biology and chemistry, ranks among the top ten of its kind in the nation. For more information, see www.scripps.edu.

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Ron Davis is chair of the Department of Neuroscience at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute. (High-res image)


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