Nadine likes to listen to neurons while they speak to each other. She does this by employing electrophysiology to indirectly see their language reflected through current frequency, amplitude and kinetics.
The communication between neurons happens at synapses. Chemical synapses use vesicles, filled with neurotransmitters, that fuse at a specific area, the active zone (AZ), to conduct the signal.
Nadine chose to do her research on Drosophila melanogaster synapses that are equipped with conserved AZ constituents to allow the investigation of molecular mechanisms essential for neuronal communication also across species. By introducing manipulations within AZs, the language between neurons can be abolished or changed such that even small differences in pronunciation of specific words can be achieved. Such alterations in neuronal language properties can be accomplished artificially or occur naturally via plastic processes.
Nadine also wants to know if the localization and arrangement of AZ proteins change when neurons modify their way to speak. Since AZs are small, conventional microscopy methods do not allow precise nanoscopic investigations of their proteinaceous content. Therefore, Nadine is using super-resolution microscopy that allows to circumvent the diffraction barrier, and thereby resolving proteins within the tiny AZ compartment. Since Nadine’s interest is mainly focused on synapses, she also collaborates with groups employing different organisms to resolve AZ features.