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Fellowship Support for Research into New Approaches for Discovering Cognitive-Enhancing Medications for Autism

The human brain is made up of many cells, each carrying out its function while maintaining its role in the larger context of groups of cells, thereby working side by side to perform specialized tasks that we attribute to behavior.  The formation and consolidation of memories is a cognitive task that has received much attention in the last decade, as neuroscientists are starting to delineate the molecular events that make memories possible.  Central to these events is a molecule called Calcium-Calmodulin dependent Kinase II (CaMKII).  CaMKII is a molecule capable of affecting practically every facet of cellular metabolism and homeostasis upon activation, which depends on transiently elevated concentrations of calcium in the cell.  Given the abundance of CaMKII in the brain it has been proposed that CaMKII plays a key role in storage of information.  Plakantonakis is interested in characterizing the interaction of CaMKII with other proteins that may be important in brain function.  Understanding the three-dimensional structure of the CaMKII molecule may be useful for understanding the way in which its function is carried out and for designing other molecules that can have a desirable physiological effect upon binding.  For instance, many drugs sold today have been designed to interact with a therapeutic target (a protein of special medical significance) whose three-dimensional structure is known.  It is possible that his efforts will provide the details required for the rational design of drugs that will have an effect on our ability to better retain and process information.