Sam Kunes, PhD
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Genetic and Biochemical Studies of Memory
Prof. Kunes’ laboratory investigates the molecular and cellular bases of memory, focusing on novel biochemical mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and localizing their activities in the brain. Much of their work utilizes the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system for
Prof. Kunes’ group has discovered that the synaptic protein synthesis associated with long-term memory is regulated by the RNA interference pathway, a pathway that also acts in mammalian synaptic plasticity. Their work uncovers novel molecular targets for which new therapeutics might be developed to treat human memory loss.
Current Research Interests
- Exploring the molecular mechanisms of learning and memory.
- Studying molecular pathways in olfactory neurons that regulate the formation of long-term memory.
- Investigating how axonal transport of signaling proteins, such as Hedgehog, contributes to the assembly of neural circuitry.
Tools and Assays
- Multiphoton microscopy
- Brain imaging
- Behavioral assays
Prof. Kunes’ laboratory is broadly interested in the question of how memories are acquired, stored and retrieved, focusing on molecular mechanisms that can be uncovered in simple model systems such as the fruitfly Drosophila, where genetic, biochemical and cytological approaches can be powerfully combined. They have monitored protein synthesis at neuronal synapses in the brain as the fly learned and conducted pioneering studies on the roles of small RNAs and the RNA interference (RISC) pathway in controlling local protein synthesis as memory is stored. They found that long-term memory could be greatly increased by adjusting the activity of RISC pathway components. The team also found that messenger RNA (mRNA) was transported to synapses as a memory began to form. In recent studies, they have identified a large variety of small RNA molecules that are involved in long-term memory and found evidence for novel pathways that control stages of memory formation and maintenance.
In earlier work, the Kunes laboratory investigated how a signaling protein, Hedgehog, was transported along axons of the developing visual system. Some work in the laboratory continues on the mechanism of sorting the Hedgehog protein between axonal and cellular compartments. They also studied the problem of how contact between photoreceptor axons and their targets in the brain influences the final stages of photoreceptor neuronal differentiation, including the development of synapses.