Professor of Neuroscience, Biology and Chemistry
The human brain is the most complex machine known. It is composed of tens of billions of nerve cells, each of which makes innumerable connections with other nerve cells. Together these nerve cells and all their connections allow us to move, think, dream, imagine and learn. How does the brain do that? When someone with Alzheimer's or another dementia has lost the ability to learn and remember, what has gone wrong with the brain?
What if . . . we had a way to understand what happens in a single nerve cell when we learn and remember, and find out what has changed when we lose that ability? The challenge of answering these questions in the human brain is the very same thing that makes it such a powerful machine - its complexity.
The sea slug Aplysia has a simple brain composed of only 10,000 nerve cells, many of which are giant and easy to identify and manipulate. Moreover, this animal is able to learn and it can remember what it learned. Importantly, the genes that are present in its brain are essentially identical to those in ours. In my lab we have developed a suite of techniques that allow us to identify every gene that is active in a cell at any point in time and we can compare the variety of genes that are active in a single nerve cell that has learned something with those in an identical cell that is still naive. This work is providing fundamental information about how individual nerve cells work, how they communicate with one another, and what happens in nerve cells when they learn and forget. Since the genes in our brain cells are so similar to those in Aplysia, this understanding has tremendous potential application for diseases of the human brain and nervous system.
Leonid Moroz earned his Ph.D. in physiology and evolutional and developmental biology under the tutelage of D.A. Sakharov at the Institute of Developmental Biology, Academy of Sciences in Moscow, Russia. His postdoctoral research was done with William Winlow at the University of Leeds in the UK and with Rhanor Gillette at the University of Illinois, Urbana.