Kathy Magnusson, D.V.M., Ph.D.
I am an aging neuroscientist, interested in how we can prevent or repair the declines that occur during aging in learning and memory ability. I am hoping to figure this out before I forget what the question is.
As a major focus for the last 25 years, my laboratory has been characterizing changes in the expression of a receptor that is very important for the formation of memories, the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor. This receptor uses glutamate as a transmitter. The NMDA receptor shows greater declines in binding of glutamate with increased age than any of the other glutamate receptors. We’ve found relationships between NMDA receptor binding and expressions of two NMDA receptor subunits, GluN2B (epsilon2, NR2B) and GluN2A (epsilon1, NR2A), during aging. We have also shown associations between age-related changes in NMDA binding densities and subunit expressions and declines in both short- and long-term spatial memory ability and have evidence that increasing expression of the GluN2B subunit in aged animals is beneficial for spatial memory. We are continuing to characterize the changes that occur in the NMDA receptor with increasing age. Ultimately we want to discover the mechanisms underlying the age-related changes in the NMDA receptor.
A developing research interest is to understand what role age-related changes in the prefrontal cortex play in different forms of memory declines, particularly spatial memory. In order to take advantage of the diverse types of information provided by using both rodent and human investigations and to better promote translational research, we are currently working on aligning similar memory tasks for rodents and humans. The most commonly used task to study memory declines in aged rodents is a long-term memory version of the Morris water maze. I have established a collaboration with and am currently spending a sabbatical leave in the lab of Dr. Scott Moffat at Georgia Institute of Technology in order to develop a virtual water maze task that is similar to that used for mice in my lab. We plan to use the water maze task, in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in order to identify brain regions that are activated while people are performing the task. The immediate goals are to determine if a similar learning curve can be obtained between species and whether elderly humans show alterations in prefrontal activity during long-term spatial memory tasks that are not seen in young adults. The long-term goals are to utilize both humans and mice performing a similar task in order to better understand the effects of aging on brain regions involved in memory and to assess the efficacy of interventions.
The main goal of my research is to find interventions into aging that will help to maintain a good quality of life into old age.
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