The National Science Foundation has awarded UNC Pembroke a grant of $86,880 to develop computer simulations which may be used to test new methods of treating neuromuscular diseases.
This project, entitled “Presynaptic structure-function relationships that control AP waveforms, calcium ion, entry, and transmitter release at neuromuscular junctions (NMJs)” will be led at UNCP by Dr. Bob Poage, professor of biology.
The computational neuroscience project will be conducted by UNCP undergraduate students serving as research trainees in Dr. Poage’s lab in collaboration with a team of investigators and other trainees from Carnegie Mellon University, University of Pittsburgh and University of Maryland at Baltimore.
“We are delighted and proud that Dr. Poage and his students are contributing to this important research. The work may lead to new insights into the functioning of the human body and improve the quality of life for those suffering from diseases like Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic syndrome (LEMS),” said Dr. Richard Gay, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
The project includes super high-resolution microscopy (Maryland) to determine locations of critical molecules in nerve cells; electrical recordings (Pittsburgh) from synapses and measures of neurochemical release; and generation, testing and improvement of computer models of neurochemical release (UNCP, CMU) based on the information gained by microscopy and electrical recordings.
The resulting computer simulations may be used to treat diseases, such as Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic syndrome. Images and animations of the submicroscopic events that drive movement, memory, learning and other brain functions may be used for educational purposes.
Although the work attempts to recreate the nerve-to-muscle synapse, it has broader implications, as it will determine the density and distribution of functionally critical proteins which are used throughout the brain and spinal cord.
The proposed work will also have an impact on K-12 education, undergraduate teaching and training, graduate and post-graduate training, community outreach and science training at under-represented minority institutions.
The new data and models produced will advance basic scientific knowledge about synapse function and enhance our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie neural disease.