The overall goal of this research proposal is to better understand how hypothalamic histaminergic (HA) projec- tion neurons control behavioral state transitions and cognitive performance, using electrophysiological, genetic and behavioral methods in transgenic mice. The applicant for the K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award, Dr. Alexander C. Jackson, is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Roger Nicoll's laboratory at UCSF. Dr. Jack- son's long-term research goal is to elucidate the cellular, synaptic and circuit-level mechanisms through which hypothalamic neural circuits regulate fundamental behavioral states, such as sleep, wakefulness, attention and cognition, in health and disease. Dr. Jackson's long-term career goal is to lead a basic neuroscience research laboratory as a tenure-track principal investigator in an academic research institution. Many of the neuro- transmitter pathways in the brain that are implicated in the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric illnesses are inexorably linked to those known to regulate sleep, wakefulness and circadian rhythms. Multiple lines of evi- dence implicate the hypothalamic HA system in regulating wakefulness, attention and aspects of cognitive function. Moreover, novel drugs that selectively enhance the activity of HA neurons are promising in promoting wakefulness and boosting cognitive function in disorders such as schizophrenia and dementias. However, largely owing to the heterogeneity of hypothalamic circuits, our understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of HA-mediated neurotransmission and its role in behavior is gravely lacking. As part of his research proposal, Dr. Jackson will circumvent current limitations in probing hypothalamic circuits by employing a cutting-edge optogenetic strategy to manipulate the excitability of genetically targeted HA neurons with millisecond preci- sion, in both brain slices and awake/behaving animals. By building on his training in cellular and synaptic elec- trophysiology, he will pursue additional training in optogenetics, EEG/EMG recording and behavioral analysis with his co-mentor Dr. Luis de Lecea (Stanford). Using these new tools, he will interrogate the HA system in a multidisciplinary manner through three Specific Aims: 1) To use novel optogenetic techniques to specifically target HA neurons with channelrhodopsin (ChR2) and then apply whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology in brain slices to determine the synaptic mechanisms underlying the regulation of target neuron excitability by en- dogenous HA release (mentored). 2) To elucidate the role of HA neurotransmission in general arousal, sleep- wake transitions and cognitive performance, by optogenetically activating HA neurons in vivo, and quantifying cortical activation, sleep-wake transitions and cognitive function through two behavioral models of learning and memory (mentored). 3) To determine the role of co-transmission in the HA system, by assessing the possibil- ity of HA/GABA co-release, its target cell-specificity and its functional role in sleep-wake behavior and cognition (independent). The training period afforded by the K99/R00 Award will provide Dr. Jackson with a powerful toolbox for his independent career investigating hypothalamic function in health and disease.
As the neural circuits in the human brain that regulate the daily cycle of sleep and wakefulness often converge with those that are disrupted in psychiatric and neurological disorders, studying such circuits can potentially reveal targets for the treatment of disease. One such circuit in the brain, which releases the neurotransmitter histamine, is thought to have an important role in mediating wakefulness and enhancing higher brain function but, until recently, has been very difficult to study. This research proposal will use novel technology to decipher the role of the histamine system in sleep, wakefulness and higher brain function with the ultimate goal of identifying targets for treating and improving the quality of lie of patients suffering from psychiatric and neurological disorders.