July 9, 2012
Study offers clues to combat neurological disorders

The ability to navigate using spatial cues was impaired in mice whose brains were minus a channel that delivers potassium -- a finding that may have implications for humans with damage to the hippocampus, a brain structure critical to memory and learning, according to a Baylor researcher.

Mice missing the channel also showed diminished learning ability in an experiment dealing with fear conditioning, said Dr. Joaquin Lugo, BS '99, the lead author in the study and an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor University's College of Arts and Sciences.

"By targeting chemical pathways that alter those potassium channels, we may eventually be able to apply the findings to humans and reverse some of the cognitive deficits in people with epilepsy and other neurological disorders," Lugo said.

The research was done in Baylor College of Medicine Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center Mouse Neurobehavior Core in Houston during Lugo's time as a researcher there.

The findings are published online in the journal Learning & Memory.

The channel, called Kv4.2, delivers potassium, which aids neuron function in the brain's hippocampus. The hippocampus forms memory for long-term storage in the brain. Potassium also helps to regulate excitability.

Individuals who have epilepsy sometimes exhibit altered or missing Kv.4.2 channels or similar types of channels.

The research was funded by the Epilepsy Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.


Cooper Foundation funds establish BRIC microgravity research facility

On May 7, Bill Clifton, chairman of the Waco-based Cooper Foundation, announced an award of $250,000 to Baylor University to construct a microgravity research facility within the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC). The BRIC is the cornerstone building of the research and discovery park under construction by Baylor University and its community stakeholders, Texas State Technical College in Waco, McLennan County, and the cities of Bellmead and Waco.

"The BRIC fits under our Community Visioning priority of promoting economic opportunities," Clifton said. "We believe the BRIC may prove one of the most important developments in our community this decade."

There are very few microgravity facilities in the world, and only a small percentage of these provide a true vacuum environment. Those that do are in constant demand, according to Dr. Truell Hyde, MS '80, PhD '88, Baylor vice provost for research.

"For example, automotive and aerospace engineers have long been interested in the manner in which fuel injection systems influence fuel flow. One of the few mechanisms for exploring this experimentally is through the use of a microgravity facility. The BRIC facility will offer an affordable and repeatable method to conduct such tests in a drag-free, near-zero gravity environment, opening opportunities for Baylor faculty to collaborate with industrial partners," he said.

For more than 65 years, the Cooper Foundation has been awarding funds to make Waco a better place in which to live. Hundreds of grants and millions of dollars have been given to support civic initiatives.

Juveniles build up physical -- but not mental -- tolerance for alcohol

Research into alcohol's effect on juvenile rats shows they have an ability to build up a physical, but not cognitive, tolerance over the short term -- a finding that could have implications for adolescent humans, according to researchers in the Baylor Addiction Research Center of Baylor's Department of Psychology and Neuroscience in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences.

"When initial alcohol use occurs during adolescence, it increases the chance of developing alcoholism later in life," said lead study author Candice E. Van Skike, MA '11, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Baylor. "It's difficult to compare metabolic and cognitive tolerance in adults with those of juveniles, because many studies that have looked at the cognitive aspect of chronic ethanol exposure didn't measure blood alcohol concentration levels. This is an avenue for future research."

The research findings are significant because they indicate that blood alcohol concentration levels alone may not fully account for impaired orientation and navigation ability, said Dr. Jim Diaz-Granados, professor and chair of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor. He and Dr. Douglas Matthews, a research scientist at Baylor and an associate professor in psychology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-authored the study, published in the journal Brain Research.

"We use the blood alcohol level to decide if someone is going to get arrested, because we think that a high level means impairment. But here we see a model where we can separate that out," Diaz-Granados said. "You may have a tolerance in metabolism, but just because your blood alcohol concentration is less than the legal limit doesn't mean your behavior isn't impaired."

Baylor researchers also tested the short-term effect of alcohol on adolescent mice in terms of memory about space and dimension. A comparison found that those who had undergone the chronic intermittent ethanol exposure built up a metabolic tolerance. Other research has shown that high levels of alcohol consumption during human adolescence are mirrored in animals.

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