From Neuronal Networks to Molecular Pathways: Mechanisms of Memory Formation and Erasure at Synapses

Date(s) - 08/21/2017
3:00 pm

Communicore, C1-17

Alfonso Martin-Pena, Ph.D., Postdoctoral scholar, Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, College of Medicine, University of Florida


Learning and memory are vital in our daily life; the inability to acquire new memories or mild impairments in those previously formed have devastating consequences for our subsistence. These memories constitute our brain’s internal representation of the outside world and are essential to make decisions and elaborate complex behaviors in response to incoming sensorial stimuli. Dr. Martin-Peña’s research focuses on the molecular and cellular mechanisms that modulate the formation and expression of memories encoded in the mushroom body and ellipsoid body of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. The powerful genetic tools that Drosophila is endowed with allow for the targeting of individual neurons with exquisite precision. He utilizes thermogenetics and optogenetics to assess the different roles of these neurons in storing and retrieving memories. In doing so, Dr. Martin- Peña is progressively unraveling the molecular pathways required in each neuron for the formation of specific types of memory, and deciphering the connectivity of their circuitries. These projects intend to develop new treatments to compensate memory loss associated with age and neurodegenerative disorders, as well as implement the current treatments to erase unpleasant memories linked to pathologies such as post-traumatic stress disorder. In this talk, Dr. Martin-Peña will introduce a few molecular tools from the Drosophila’s arsenal used to unravel the neuronal networks and molecular pathways that create and erode memories.


Dr. Martin-Peña earned his Bs in Neurobiology (2001) and his Ms in Neuroscience (2003) from Complutense University at Madrid. He also received his PhD from Complutense University at Madrid in 2007, after completing his dissertation work at Cajal Institute (National Research Council) on the ultrastructure of the ellipsoid body and the synaptogenic properties of the PI3K signaling pathway. His work revealed that PI3K synaptogenesis helps to alleviate synapse loss associated with aging and that this synaptogenic pathway is conserved in Humans. He then moved to Baylor College of Medicine and The Scripps Research Institute to complete his postdoctoral training on the neuronal and synaptic mechanisms mediating the formation and extinction of memories. At the University of Florida, he originally joined the department of Neurology where he tested several genetically engineered molecular therapies for their ability to restore normal levels of memory in a Drosophila model of Alzheimer’s disease. His current interests lay on two main fronts (1) mapping the neuronal networks underlying the coding, storing and retrieval of olfactory and visual memories, and (2) deciphering the molecular mechanisms governing synapse-specific neuronal plasticity.