Qianwen Zhu

A significant challenge in neuroscience is identifying the cellular and molecular processes underlying learning and memory formation. Decades of remarkable research have found that synaptic plasticity, especially long-term potentiation (LTP), is a highly compelling cellular model of learning and memory, which requires ionotropic glutamate receptor (AMPA receptor [AMPAR]) insertion into synapses. Many AMPAR interactors have been discovered to involve the regulation of AMPAR trafficking, but less is known about their necessity in contributing to learning and memory. In Richard Huganir’s lab, my research investigates whether AMPAR interactors (GRIP1, NSF and PKMζ) are required for synaptic plasticity and memory formation, by using powerful genetic manipulations combined with electrophysiological and behavioral approaches. We have found that GRIP1 is necessary for hippocampal LTP and memory by facilitating AMPAR trafficking, and this provides insights into designing a potential therapeutic target for autism spectrum disorder. In two other studies, we proved the well-known molecules NSF and PKMζ are not required for synaptic plasticity and hippocampus-related memory. Our discoveries expand and revise the current molecular model of synaptic plasticity and help to develop comprehensive understandings of cell signaling events that contribute to learning and memory.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

I chose to work as a postdoc at Johns Hopkins because I was inspired by many significant research discoveries here, and I was attracted by the collaborative research environment and cutting-edge techniques.

What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received?

It’s my great honor to have the Claude and Barbara Migeon Award. I think it’s a professional milestone that will encourage me to follow my research interests and pursue my scientific career. After reading Dr. Migeon’s biography, I admire her persistence and contribution to fundamental biological research in both roles of a female scientist and a mother, and she has become one of my scientist role models.

What contributed to your project’s success?

I’m very grateful for all the support and guidance I received from my mentor, Dr. Huganir, and team members. This work required multiple techniques in the fields of genetics, physiology, biochemistry and behavior. In particular, I owe a great deal of appreciation to my graduate mentor, Jianyuan Sun, and past colleague, Shu-Ling Chiu, for the electrophysiology training they have provided while in the lab.

What thoughts do you have about Young Investigators’ Day itself, as a celebration of the roles student and fellows play in research at Johns Hopkins?

I really appreciate Young Investigators’ Day because it is an important event that highlights the cutting-edge research being conducted at the university and recognizes the hard work and dedication of graduate students and postdocs.

What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

My most memorable experience at Hopkins was a celebration in 2018 for my mentor, Dr. Huganir, who had been working at Johns Hopkins as an investigator for 30 years. Many fantastic researchers in neuroscience were invited to present their work. During the ceremony, I had professional chats with speakers and past lab members that benefited my networking.

What are your plans over the next year or so?

After publishing my current work, I will look for a research position at biotech/pharmaceutical companies to pursue my career in translational science.

Tell me something interesting about yourself that makes you unique. Do you have any special hobbies, interests or life experiences?

Learning new skills gives me lots of fun in my daily life. I enjoy baking fancy cakes that I serve to family and friends. I completed a marathon and won a swim competition while in college. Recently, I’ve been addicted to learning ice skating and skiing.