News

Molecule shown to repair damaged axons

Alyson Fournier

Discovery could be key to treating brain and spinal cord injury

A foray into plant biology led one researcher to discover that a natural molecule can repair axons, the thread-like projections that carry electrical signals between cells. Axonal damage is the major culprit underlying disability in conditions such as spinal cord injury and stroke.

Andrew Kaplan, a PhD candidate at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University, was looking for a pharmacological approach to axon regeneration, with a focus on 14-3-3, a family of proteins with neuroprotective functions that have been under investigation in the laboratory of Dr. Alyson Fournier, professor of neurology and neurosurgery and senior author on the study.

Second study from UBC shows “liberation therapy” fails to treat multiple sclerosis

Anthony Traboulsee

Anthony Traboulsee

Opening up narrowed veins from the brain and spinal cord is not effective in treating multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a study led by the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health.

The conclusions about so-called “liberation therapy,” which thousands of people with MS have undergone since 2009, represent the most definitive debunking of the claim that MS patients could achieve dramatic improvements from a one-time medical procedure.

Largest international study of its kind finds new schizophrenia risk genes

Stephen Scherer

Stephen Scherer

Results of the International Psychiatric Genomics Consortium unveiled

TORONTO – Canadian and international scientists have uncovered six new schizophrenia risk genes in the largest study of its kind. The results of the international Psychiatric Genomics Consortium CNV working group are published in the Nov. 21 advance online edition of Nature Genetics, and further support the important role genes play in susceptibility to schizophrenia, and may be helpful in early diagnosis.

UBC scientists create a mouse that resists cocaine’s lure

Shernaz BamjiScientists at the University of British Columbia have genetically engineered a mouse that does not become addicted to cocaine, adding to the evidence that habitual drug use is more a matter of genetics and biochemistry than just poor judgment.

The mice they created had higher levels of a protein called cadherin, which helps bind cells together. In the brain, cadherin helps strengthen synapses between neurons – the gaps that electrical impulses must traverse to bring about any action or function controlled by the brain, whether it’s breathing, walking, learning a new task or recalling a memory.

An eye-catching result

Brian White

Brian White

Research determines how the brain recognizes what’s important at first glance.

Researchers at the Centre for Neuroscience Studies (CNS) at Queen’s University have discovered that a region of the brain – the superior colliculus – contains a mechanism responsible for interpreting how visual input from a scene determines where we look. This mechanism, known as a visual salience map, allows the brain to quickly identify and act on the most important information in the visual field, and is a basic mechanism for our everyday vision.

Lack of joy from music linked to brain disconnection

Dr. Robert Zatorre

Dr. Robert Zatorre

Have you ever met someone who just wasn’t into music? They may have a condition called specific musical anhedonia, which affects three-to-five per cent of the population.

Researchers at the University of Barcelona and the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University have discovered that people with this condition showed reduced functional connectivity between cortical regions responsible for processing sound and subcortical regions related to reward.

Breakthrough in MS treatment

Amit Bar-Or

Amit Bar-Or

Drug shown to reduce new attacks/symptom progression in some patients

In separate clinical trials, a drug called ocrelizumab has been shown to reduce new attacks in patients with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS), and new symptom progression in primary progressive MS.

Three studies conducted by an international team of researchers, which included Amit Bar-Or and Douglas Arnold from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University, have discovered that ocrelizumab can significantly reduce new attacks in patients with relapsing MS, as well as slow the progression of symptoms caused by primary progressive MS.

An inherited form of intellectual disability, due to mutations in the SYNGAP1 gene, impairs connection of inhibitory neurons

Graziella Di Cristo and Jacques Michaud

Graziella Di Cristo and Jacques Michaud

Intellectual disability is characterized by significant impairment of cognitive and adaptive functions and affects 1-3 in 100 individuals worldwide. A few years ago, scientists at CHU Ste.Justine reported for the first time that genetic mutations in the gene SYNGAP1 cause a form of intellectual disability, which is often associated with autism spectrum disorders and epilepsy. Since then, DNA sequencing of SYNGAP1 in several groups of individuals with intellectual disability in Canada, the US and Europe has revealed that pathogenic mutations in SYNGAP1 are one of the most common cause of genetic intellectual disability.

McMaster Scientists Discover Autism Gene Slows Down Brain Cell Communication

Karun Singh

Scientists at McMaster University’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute in collaboration with Sick Children’s Hospital have discovered genetic alterations in the gene DIXDC1 in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This gene was found to change the way brain cells grow and communicate.

This finding, published today in Cell Reports, provides new insights into ASD that will guide identification of new medications for people with ASD. This is critical because ASD affects one in 68 individuals, and there are no medications that target the core symptoms of this complex disorder.

Researchers at Université Laval identify a mechanism that leads to the death of neurons in Parkinson’s disease

Martin LévesqueIt is known that neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s cause the gradual death of brain neurons. But what exactly are the mechanisms that go awry to cause degeneration of nerve cells? A team of researchers from Université Laval and the Quebec Mental Health Research Institute investigated the matter and show, in an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the role played by two key regulatory proteins in the cascade of reactions leading to the death of neurons in Parkinson’s disease.

Gaming camera could aid MS treatment

3D depth-sensing camera shown to measure walking difficulties

A commonly used device found in living rooms around the world could be a cheap and effective means of evaluating the walking difficulties of multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

The Microsoft Kinect is a 3D depth-sensing camera used in interactive video activities such as tennis and dancing. It can be hooked up to an Xbox gaming console or a Windows computer.

A team of researchers led by McGill University postdoctoral fellow Farnood Gholami, supervised by Jozsef Kövecses from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Centre for Intelligent Machines, collaborated with Daria Trojan, a physiatrist in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery working at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, to test whether the Kinect could detect the differences in gait of MS patients compared to healthy individuals.

Journey to the end of the neuron

Edouard Khandjian

Edouard Khandjian

Study confirms the existence of a molecular transport mechanism involved in fragile X syndrome

A team from the Centre de recherche de l’Institut universitaire en santé mentale de QuébecUniversité Laval has furthered our understanding of fragile X syndrome, the leading genetic cause of mental retardation in children. The article published by these researchers in a recent issue of PLoS Genetics confirms the model developed over 14 years by the team of Professor Edward Khandjian, and reveals new elements.

Brain’s biological clock stimulates thirst before sleep

Bourque-Gizowski-Zaelzer

Bourque, Gizowski, Zaelzer

Discovery could lead to ways to mitigate effects of jet lag and shift work

The brain’s biological clock stimulates thirst in the hours before sleep, according to a study published in the journalNature by McGill University researchers.

The finding — along with the discovery of the molecular process behind it — provides the first insight into how the clock regulates a physiological function. And while the research was conducted in mice, “the findings could point the way toward drugs that target receptors implicated in problems that people experience from shift work or jet lag,”

High-speed connections

Armen Saghatelyan

Armen Saghatelyan

Researchers find a mechanism that allows the brain to reconfigure connections between neurons in mere minutes.

A team from the Quebec Mental Health Institute – Université Laval has discovered a mechanism that allows the brain to rapidly reconfigure connections between its neurons. According to the researchers, whose findings were published in a recent issue of the journal Nature Communications, this mechanism plays a central role in brain plasticity.

Researchers find new role for cannabinoids in vision

Edward Ruthazer

Edward Ruthazer

Chemicals found to improve low-light vision of tadpoles by sensitizing retinal cells

A multidisciplinary team including researchers from the Montreal Neurological Institute has improved our understanding of how cannabinoids, the active agent in marijuana, affect vision in vertebrates.

Scientists used a variety of methods to test how tadpoles react to visual stimuli when they’ve been exposed to increased levels of exogenous or endogenous cannabinoids. Exogenous cannabinoids are artificially introduced drugs, whereas endogenous cannabinoids occur naturally in the body.

New path of discovery in Parkinson’s disease

Heidi McBride

Heidi McBride

Michel Desjardins

Michel Desjardins

Neuron cell death may be caused by overactive immune system 

A team of scientists led by Dr. Michel Desjardins from the University of Montreal and Dr. Heidi McBride from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (MNI) at McGill University have discovered that two genes associated with Parkinson’s disease (PD) are key regulators of the immune system, providing direct evidence linking Parkinson’s to autoimmune disease.

Using both cellular and mouse models, the team has shown that proteins produced by the two genes, known as PINK1 and Parkin, are required to prevent cells from being detected and attacked by the immune system.

Middle-age memory decline a matter of changing focus

Natasha Rajah

Natasha Rajah

Research sheds new light on what constitutes healthy aging of the brain

The inability to remember details, such as the location of objects, begins in early midlife (the 40s) and may be the result of a change in what information the brain focuses on during memory formation and retrieval, rather than a decline in brain function, according to a study by McGill University researchers.

“Big Data” study discovers earliest sign of Alzheimer’s

Alan Evans

Alan Evans

Research underlines importance of computational power in future neurological breakthrough.
Scientists at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital have used a powerful tool to better understand the progression of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease (LOAD), identifying its first physiological signs.
Led by Dr. Alan Evans, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery and biomedical engineering at the Neuro, the researchers analyzed more than 7,700 brain images from 1,171 people in various stages of Alzheimer’s progression using a variety of techniques including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET). Blood and cerebrospinal fluid were also analyzed, as well as the subjects’ level of cognition.

Hummingbird vision wired to avoid high-speed collisions

Douglas Altshuler

Douglas Altshuler

Hummingbirds are among nature’s most agile fliers. They can travel faster than 50 kilometres per hour and stop on a dime to navigate through dense vegetation.

Now researchers have discovered that the tiny birds process visual information differently from other animals, perhaps to handle the demands of their extreme aerial acrobatics.

“Birds fly faster than insects and it’s more dangerous if they collide with things,” said Roslyn Dakin, a postdoctoral fellow in the UBC’s department of zoology who led the study. “We wanted to know how they avoid collisions and we found that hummingbirds use their environment differently than insects to steer a precise course.”

Understanding how chemical changes in the brain affect Alzheimer’s disease

Marco Prado

Marco Prado

A new study from Western University is helping to explain why the long-term use of common anticholinergic drugs used to treat conditions like allergies and overactive bladder lead to an increased risk of developing dementia later in life. The findings show that long-term suppression of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine – a target for anticholinergic drugs – results in dementia-like changes in the brain.

Parkinson’s disease may be a key to solving the glioblastoma puzzle: SickKids-led study

Peter Dirks

Peter Dirks

As the most common and aggressive cancerous brain tumour in adults, a glioblastoma diagnosis remains a death sentence due to its  resistance to all currently-available treatments. Research in this area has been slow and steady to date. Now, with promising new findings, a Canadian team of scientists is ushering brain cancer research into a new realm: the field of neurodegenerative medicine and neurochemical signalling.

SickKids scientists show how memories are linked in the brain

Dr. Sheena Josselyn

Dr. Sheena Josselyn

Some memories just seem to go together. Think about an important experience in your life. You may also closely remember another experience that happened around that time too, like exchanging vows at your wedding, and then your friend’s epic dance moves later that same night. Somehow these two memories seem to be linked in your mind.

A new study led by The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), looks at this connection between memories and illustrates how certain memories become linked in the brain. The study is published in the July 22 online edition of Science.

How the fingertip is teaching scientists about tissue repair

Freda Miller

Freda Miller

When a newt loses a limb due to injury, it simply grows back. Mammals are not as fortunate as evolution has left us without this useful regenerative capacity. One exception however, is the fingertip which regenerates from the distal tip (farthest end of finger) to the nailbed in both mice and humans. How this occurs has been largely unknown.