Swayne, Caruncho receive CIHR grants for brain development, depression research

Dr. Leigh Anne Swayne and Dr. Hector Caruncho have each received $100,000 in funding over one year from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

imageDr. Swayne received funding for her project exploring the stability of new nerve cell connections during brain development.

To form the circuits underlying proper brain development, nerve cells form connections that become stabilized. However, the Swayne Lab recently found that a protein called pannexin 1 – a protein that can control changes in cell structure – inhibits this process. They suspect that pannexin 1 acts as a molecular “brake” that prevents premature stabilization of nerve cell connections.

Impaired stability of nerve cell connections is common to several neurological conditions, yet there are few strategies to address this. To develop treatments that could help to maintain the connections rendered vulnerable in, Swayne says we first need to understand the factors that regulate their stabilization.

The Swayne team will explore the molecular mechanisms underlying pannexin 1 inhibition of nerve cell connection stability during neuronal development. They will also investigate the role of nearby astrocytes in the down-regulation of neuronal pannexin 1 to release the brake so that nerve circuits can be established.

Dr. Craig Brown and Dr. Brian Christie (both Division of Medical Sciences) and Dr. Keith Murai (McGill University) will collaborate on the project, as will Swayne Lab research associate Dr. Leigh Wicki-Stordeur and MSc student Haifei You.


imageDr. Caruncho received funding for his project exploring the sex-specific connections between reelin and major depression.

Major depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. In this project, the Caruncho team will continue exploring the possibility that reelin – a protein that plays a role in brain development and, in adults, neural plasticity – may have fast-acting antidepressant effects. They will examine the molecular mechanisms of these actions, as well as how these mechanisms differ between the sexes.

As the sexes experience major depression differently, it’s important that this research – which could lead to new pharmaceutical therapies for the disorder – focus both on gaining both a general understanding of the antidepressant drugs’ actions and evaluating sex differences that may underlie some of the effects, Dr. Caruncho says.

Dr. Lisa Kalynchuk and Dr. Marie-Ève Tremblay (both Division of Medical Sciences) are co-applicants on the grant. Dr. Olav Krigolson (University of Victoria) and Dr. José Olivares (Hospital Alvaro Cunqueiro) will also collaborate on the project, as will Caruncho Lab students Jenessa Johnston, Carla Sanchez-Lafuente, Brady Reive, Kaylene Scheil, and Ciara Halvorson.