McKnight Scholar Award to Support MPFI Research into Learning and Movement

June 15, 2023
This new award will support Dr. Hidehiko Inagaki’s research into learning and movement.

How do chemical changes in neurons allow us to learn complex skills? Max Planck Florida researcher Dr. Hidehiko Inagaki is working to find out, thanks to a new award from the McKnight Foundation. Dr. Inagaki has been awarded $225,000 to study the synaptic mechanisms and network dynamics underlying motor learning. His work seeks to connect two major fields of neuroscience, filling a fundamental knowledge gap in our understanding of how we learn, and laying a foundation for further research into the possible causes of learning disorders.

The McKnight Scholar Award supports outstanding neuroscientists in the early stage of their independent careers to facilitate the development of research programs that will critically impact the study of the brain. With only a handful of awards given to neuroscientists nationwide each year, Dr. Inagaki joins an exceptional group of impactful scientists whose early careers were supported by the McKnight Foundation.

This award will support the further development of Dr. Inagaki’s research into how learning occurs in the brain. The Inagaki lab takes a unique approach to this question by seeking to connect the changes that occur at single synapses with the changes in neural network activity that controls behavior. Our ability to learn has been attributed to synaptic plasticity, the power of experience to alter the strength of the connections between the neurons in the brain. However, how these changes might lead to changes in behavior during learning has been difficult to explore experimentally. Recently, by recording the neural activity of hundreds of neurons simultaneously in a behaving animal, scientists are beginning to decode the patterns that mediate simple behaviors such as movement. Dr. Inagaki now hopes to determine how these patterns are created as animals learn to perform movements.

The McKnight Foundation’s support will allow Dr. Inagaki and his lab to investigate how changes in the connection strengths between specific neurons in the brain alter the network activity patterns that control performance as an animal learns. To tackle this question, Dr. Inagaki will combine the power of molecular and genetic tools with large-scale, in-vivo recordings of neural activity during a movement-related learning task. Although these experiments are challenging, Dr. Inagaki describes his motivation to take on this challenge. “Determining how the plasticity of specific neural connections shapes brain activity to plan and execute behavior is critical to fill a major gap in our understanding of how we learn. I am so honored that the McKnight Foundation has selected me as one of this year’s scholars.”

 

Read more about Dr. Inagaki’s work.
Read more about the McKnight Scholars Award.
Read the McKnight Scholar Award Announcement.