Thomas C. Foster, Ph.D.
Department of Neuroscience
University of Florida
1149 Newell Drive
PO Box 100244
Gainesville, FL 32611-0244
|Bowman Gray School of Medicine
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
|University of Colorado
Key Words: Memory; Aging; Synaptic Plasticity; Gene Regulation
Attention and memory difficulties increase with advancing age. These problems are associated with changes in metabolism, which alters the function of brain cells and makes them vulnerable to damage. The two main goals of the lab are to identify mechanisms for age-related memory impairment and to test treatments to alleviate memory deficits.
Research Focus & Aims:
In general, my research is focused on understanding mechanisms for modifying synaptic transmission and their relationship to memory, particularly in the context of cognitive decline during aging. My early work showed that neuronal discharge activity in the hippocampus, a brain structure involved in memory, could represent the history of experience and the association of sensory-motor information1. Synaptic plasticity is thought to mediate the associative and information storage properties of neurons, and intracellular calcium (Ca2+) levels occupy a pivotal position in regulating synaptic plasticity, determining whether synaptic strength increases or decreases in response to neuronal activation. Low level Ca2+ influx leads to activation of protein phosphatases and long-term synaptic depression (LTD). As synaptic activity and Ca2+ influx increase, Ca2+-dependent kinases are activated resulting in long-term synaptic potentiation (LTP). LTP is widely used as a memory model and our research indicates that experience modifies hippocampal synaptic transmission through LTP-like mechanisms2-4. Interestingly, synaptic plasticity processes change over the lifespan and thus could underlie cognitive changes with advanced age. Currently I am the principal investigator on four active grants that support work examining the mechanisms for memory changes during aging.
In summary, my research program utilizes a combination of behavioral characterization with biochemical, molecular, and electrophysiological techniques to obtain a vertically integrated perspective on neural aging, from the molecular to the cognitive level.