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Zinc Dynamics in Living Cells and Organisms

Zinc is an essential nutrient for biological function and human health. A pool of free zinc is concentrated in synaptic vesicles in glutamatergic neurons and co-released with glutamate during neuronal activity. Synaptically-released zinc has been suggested to act a signaling molecule to communicate between cells and modulate various synaptic targets (receptors and ion channels) and synaptic plasticity, which would further modulate brain function. Zinc imbalance and dysregulation have been correlated with a number of human diseases.

Currently, our understanding of zinc in neuronal signaling and neurodegeneration is limited by the lack of appropriate tools to specifically track the dynamics of zinc in living neurons, tissues and organisms. Therefore, the major objectives of this group is to generate imaging systems to monitor zinc dynamics in living cells and organisms with high spatio-temporal fidelity, and to utilize these novel systems to investigate the biological functions of zinc.

Our approach spans basic biophysical and biochemical technologies to molecular neuroscience techniques. They also incorporate considerable use of advanced microscope imaging and large imaging dataset analysis strategies in our research.