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ERC Advanced Grant for ‘Synaptic Promiscuity in Brain Development’

April 24, 2021 News

Peter Robin Hiesinger has been selected for the highest grant award for established scientists in the European Union. According the the European Research Commission (ERC), Advanced Grants are awarded to exceptional leaders in terms of originality and significance of their research contributions. The 2020 competition was particularly fierce, with a success rate of less than 8%. The question of synaptic promiscuity during brain development is central to, and discussed for a general audience in, The Self-Assembling Brain. The ERC award will support work in the Hiesinger lab on the self-assembly of the brain with 2.3 million Euro over the next five years.

Announcement from the ERC

From the summary of ‘Synaptic Promiscuity in Brain Development’:

Precise synaptic connectivity is a prerequisite for the function of neural circuits, yet individual neurons, taken out of their developmental context, readily form unspecific synapses. The goal of this proposal is to understand the roles and requirements of such promiscuous synapse formation during brain development. The observation of promiscuous synapse formation is not at odds with precise outcomes. The developmental program can ensure correct partnerships between neurons that form synapses promiscuously, but to what degree remains largely unresolved. My group has developed live imaging and optogenetic manipulations of dynamic synaptic choice processes in the intact developing fly brain. We found that time, location and the kinetics of filopodial interactions restrict to a remarkable degree the specificity of synaptic contacts between neurons that can form synapses with many partners if not actively prevented from doing so. The time is ripe for a quantitative assessment of the extent to which synaptic connections are the result of developmentally regulated promiscuous synapse formation. The quest to understand the molecular mechanisms of brain wiring has largely focused on guidance cues and synaptic recognition, fields in which great progress continues to be made. This proposal offers to approach the question of synaptic specificity from the much rarer, but complementary perspective of the alternative limiting case, the hypothesis of synaptic promiscuity.