McGill University, Montréal, Canada
National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore
I have long been fascinated by the idea that something as seemingly intangible as a memory can be traced to molecular changes within neurons in our brains. I first had the opportunity to study this phenomenon in the lab of Dr. Wayne Sossin at the Montreal Neurological Institute of McGill University. It was here that I carried out my PhD work investigating the role of specific translational regulation pathways in long-term synaptic facilitation (a process underlying memory) at sensory-to-motor neuron synapses in the sea slug, Aplysia– a well-characterized and successful model system for studying memory. I was able to determine a key molecule in a pathway that upregulates translation of new proteins during long-term synaptic facilitation and characterize a potentially important signaling pathway downstream of this molecule. What I found exciting about working in Aplysia was the ability to causally link molecular changes at an identified synapse to a learned change in behaviour. This stands in stark contrast to mammalian models of memory, in which molecular changes have not been causally linked to learned changes in behaviour as the specific sites responsible for such memories have proven very difficult to identify in the much more complex mammalian brain. I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about memory processing in non-human mammals, whose experiences and physiology are much more similar to our own. Specifically, I thought about ways in which one could identify key sites of change associated with memory in this group of animals. Therefore, I decided to set out to learn the experimental techniques necessary to study memory in rodents. With this goal in mind, I began a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Dr. Jean-Claude Lacaille at l’Université de Montréal. Here I was able to contribute to a seminal study outlining a translational regulation pathway whose dysregulation leads to autism-spectrum-disorder-like phenotypes. Importantly, this fellowship equipped me with the expertise I needed in order to begin developing a molecular tool to visualize and target memory traces in rodents. This is the goal that I set out to achieve as a Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance Early Career Fellow at the National Centre For Biological Sciences, Bangalore and the University of California, Los Angeles.