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The Department of Biomedicine

BBB seminar: Pawel Burkhardt

Reconstructing the evolutionary origin of synapses and neurons

Pawel Burkhardt
Sars International Centre for Marine Molecular Biology, Bergen

Neurons are the key building blocks of our nervous system and are central to information processing and transfer in the brain. In neurons, the transmission of chemical signals (called neurotransmitters) from the pre-synapse to the post-synapse requires distinct sets of pre- and post-synaptic protein networks. While we now understand much of the underlying molecular mechanisms of how neurons communicate, knowledge about how and when synapses and neurons originated during animal evolution is very limited and key questions remain: When did the first synapse signalling complexes evolve and what were their functions? Which combinations of synaptic proteins resulted in the origin of first synapses? Did neurons evolve once or multiple times during evolution? In the seminar I will present our recent discoveries on synaptic protein homologs found in choanoflagellates (closest unicellular relatives of animals), sponges (early-branching animals with no synapses or neurons) and ctenophores (early branching animals with synapses or neurons) and explain how these fascinating organisms help us to understand the evolutionary origin of synapses and neurons.

Chairperson: Clive Bramham, Department of Biomedicine