The Nurrish Laboratory
I want to understand how your brain works. Or more importantly
why some people's brains have a problem with potentially devastating
effects on them and their loved ones. You've got 100 billion brain
cells and each brain cell has an average of 1000 connections to
other brain cells. That's 100 trillion connections.
Anyway I figured that I'd start off understanding something a
tad simpler. Hence Caenorhabditis elegans, a 1mm long nematode
worm which has only 302 brain cells and 7000 connections in total.
So here I am at University College, London running a lab working
on worm brains. In particular how the brain chemical serotonin
works. Why serotonin? Well Prozac is a Serotonin Selective Reuptake
Inhibitor. The theory is if you have low levels of serotonin then
you're depressed and prozac causes serotonin levels to rise. What
does a worm on serotonin look like? It pretty much gives up moving,
gets fat and has lots of kids. So we looked for mutants that don't
respond to serotonin and found a bunch of genes that are necessary
for serotonin to have an effect. And the really cool part was there
are almost 100% identical genes in us. So it seems pretty likely
that these human genes will also be important for serotonin's effect
on us and if a person has a defect in one of those genes then they
might be at risk for depression (risk for depression can be hereditary).
Thus by working on our tiny worms we hope to find risk factors
for depression and maybe even find targets for a new generation
The best thing is that I get to see how evolution has built up
the brain and to begin to understand how it all works. Just every
so often I get to figure out something that no-one has ever figured
out before and that makes all the other crappy days when the experiments
just won't work all worthwhile.
Stephen Nurrish, London, 2008
N2 multiple: These worms are wild-type c elegans behaving normally.
C3T QT42f 6-7-04: These worms have a lot of serotonin which means
they don't move very much even when poked.
nRHO-1* - multiple: These worms have no serotonin signalling,
and behave quite differently.