Antonia Marín-Burgin, Group leader at our Institute, was selected in the Ben Barres Spotlight Prize of the scientific journal eLife for her discovery of increased excitability in neurons generated in the hippocampus.
It is commonly known that when neuronal activity is affected due to illness or the consumption of some substances, they cannot regenerate. In fact, most occur during the embryonic period and remain until the end of life, but if a neuron is damaged in any way the rest of the neurons begin to compensate for that missing one. Within the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, a fundamental region for the formation of memory and the representation of space, new neurons (neurogenesis) continue to form throughout life.
Antonia Marín-Burgin works with her team of Neuronal Circuits in several projects to understand different mechanisms of brain plasticity. It was precisely within the project “Processing of stimuli in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus” that they discovered that young neurons provide different properties to the processing of stimuli in the hippocampus, they observed that these neurons were less inhibited which means that they were more excitable. This characteristic would allow these neurons to respond to various stimuli and, therefore, they represented a neuronal population with associative capacity.
The questions that have guided his research so far are fundamental in the field: why are neurons generated in this region? What role do they play? Are they different from the others? and, what is your ability to process information?
In 2015, Antonia Marín-Burgin published in eLife a study that compared new neurons to the old ones. Based on that, she was selected this year for the Ben Barres Spotlight Award, which main objective is to make science a more inclusive environment. For this the award is opened to researchers of low-income countries, non-binary or transgender people, women, ethnic minorities or people with disabilities.
The name of the award is in tribute to Ben Barres a transgender neuroscientist who fought hard for gender equality. ELife is a non-profit organization founded in 2011 by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and Wellcome Trust.
Women in science
In addition to Antonia Marín-Burgin, there are two Argentine scientists who also received the award: Vanesa Gottifredi, who researches in the area of cancer at the Leloir Institute Foundation (FIL) and Noelia Weisstaub, of the Institute of Cognitive and Translational Neuroscience (INCYT – Favaloro University and INECO Foundation).
Gottifredi is a researcher at CONICET and head of the Cell Cycle and Genomic Stability Laboratory at FIL. In 2016 “she published with his team a study that described the role of a ´guardian´ protein, called p21, that closely monitors the process of duplication of genetic material, ensuring that it is as identical as possible to the original DNA molecule and thus avoiding failures whose accumulation can lead to cancer cells ”.
On the other hand, Weisstaub and her team revealed in 2018 that a neurotransmitter, serotonin, and a specific receptor in the prefrontal cortex, are key to “episodic memory”, that relates to the memory of unique events in our life that inform us about ‘what, where and when’. (Source: AgenciaCyTA).