Identifying gene expression changes governing fear conditioning using single-cell transcriptomics

MSc. Graduate Seminar Nuphar Reinhardt (Zeisel Lab)

Memory is fundamental to the survival of all animals, as it enables them to adapt their behavior according to their experience, thus, it is a central research field in neuroscience. Yet, despite the progress achieved in recognizing molecular mechanisms that are involved in learning and memory in the brain, we still lack complete understanding how a memory is formed. Specifically, although changes in brain gene expression were shown to be crucial for memory acquisition, little is known about the magnitude and distribution of such changes in a given neuronal network that is involved in a specific memory – and which specific cell types contribute to memory formation .
Our study aimed to bridge this gap of knowledge and to define the transcriptional changes involved in the formation of fear conditioning learning in the amygdala region using single-cell transcriptomics. Based on full transcriptome profiling of thousands of individual neurons we managed to define the cell types in the amygdala and classify them into functional and regional categories. In addition, we have found two different cell types that putatively play a role in fear learning. Finally, we have found the specific localization of those two cell types within the amygdala region in the brain, using fluorescence in-situ hybridization. This is an important step towards detailed mapping of the brain’s building blocks and their function.