Amy Arai, Ph.D.
Research Interest & Specialties:
Neuropharmacology: From Receptors to Neuronal Circuits. Research interest has been to understand cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying long-term potentiation (LTP), a form of synaptic plasticity that is considered to be a mechanism of memory encoding. AMPA-type glutamate receptors are increasingly recognized as playing a critical role in LTP in at least two regards. One is that they provide the excitatory drive needed to initiate potentiation; the second and more intriguing aspect is that a change in AMPA receptor kinetics may be the mechanism underlying potentiation itself. Much of my research has focused on studying the mode of operation of AMPA receptors and on elucidating the relationship between their kinetic properties and the time course of synaptic transmission, the rules underlying synaptic plasticity, and the signal processing across neuronal networks. Results from these studies also prompted the development of a novel class of drugs that positively modulate AMPA receptors; these so-called ‘ampakines’ have now been clinical trials for mild cognitive impairment, ADHD, depression and schizophrenia. A more recent research focus is on endogenous signaling mechanisms that modulate excitatory synaptic transmission. We study in particular the role of the novel neuropeptide kiddpeptin (metastin) and its receptor GPR54, as well as the role of related neuropeptides such as Prolactin-Releasing Peptide, in regulating synaptic, cellular and network physiology in the hippocampus, amygdala and thalamus.