News

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.

Alzheimer’s disease : It takes two (proteins) to tango

Pedro Rosa-Neto

Pedro Rosa-Neto

For years, neuroscientists have puzzled over how two abnormal proteins, called amyloid and tau, accumulate in the brain and damage it to cause Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Which one is the driving force behind dementia? The answer: both of them, according to a new study by researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

In the journal Molecular Psychiatry, the team led by Dr. Pedro Rosa-Neto, a clinician scientist at the Douglas and assistant professor of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry at McGill University, reports for the first time evidence that the interaction between amyloid and tau proteins drives brain damage in cognitively intact individuals.

Brain cells that aid appetite control identified

Maia Kokoeva

Maia Kokoeva

Discovery opens door to development of new drugs to control weight gain and obesity
It’s rare for scientists to get what they describe as “clean” results without spending a lot of time repeating the same experiment over and over again. But when researchers saw the mice they were working with doubling their weight within a month or two, they knew they were on to something.

Chemical in marijuana shows promise in treating schizophrenia

Laviolette and Renard

Laviolette and Renard

According to new research at Western University, marijuana is the ultimate contradiction; at least when it comes to schizophrenia.

This first-of-its-kind study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, demonstrates that a chemical found in marijuana called cannabidiol, or CBD, affects the brain in a way that makes it an ideal treatment option for schizophrenia. This research comes just months after the same lab found that adolescent exposure to THC, the other major compound found in marijuana, may lead to the onset of schizophrenia in adulthood.

Mechanism that reduces effect of cocaine on brain discovered

Sarah Konefal, David Stellwagen

Sarah Konefal, David Stellwagen

Finding offers hope for development of a new approach to prevent drug use relapses

A type of brain cell known as microglia plays a key role in reducing the effects of cocaine in the brain, according to a major study by a team from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC).

Rapid eye movement sleep: keystone of memory formation

Sylvain Williams

Sylvain Williams

For decades, scientists have fiercely debated whether rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – the phase where dreams appear – is directly involved in memory formation.

Now, a study published in Science by researchers at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute (McGill University) and the University of Bern provides evidence that REM sleep does, indeed, play this role – at least in mice.

What makes the brain tick so fast?

Dr. Derek Bowie

Derek Bowie

New study sheds light on the workings of brain neurotransmitter receptors

Surprisingly complex interactions between neurotransmitter receptors and other key proteins help explain the brain’s ability to process information with lightning speed, according to a new study.

Scientists at McGill University, working with collaborators at the universities of Oxford and Liverpool, combined experimental techniques to examine fast-acting protein macromolecules, known as AMPA receptors, which are a major player in brain signaling.  Their findings are reported online in the journal Neuron.

Location may be key to effectively controlling pain

Terence Coderre

Terence Coderre

Targeting the pain receptor at the cell’s nucleus has a major effect on its ability to transmit pain signals.

In real estate, location is key. It now seems the same concept holds true when it comes to stopping pain. New research published in Nature Communications by a team of researchers led by McGill University’s Director of Anesthesia Research Terence Coderre and Karen O’Malley at Washington University in St. Louis,  indicates that the location of receptors that transmit pain signals is important in how big or small a pain signal will be — and therefore how effectively drugs can block those signals.

Accidental finding leads to brain circuit development discovery

Jean-Claude Béïque

Jean-Claude Béïque

Researchers at the University of Ottawa Brain and Mind Research Institute have pinpointed a set of rules that govern how brain circuits develop during early life, offering clues into neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Published in Neuron, one of the most influential journals in the field of neuroscience, their study shows how neuroplasticity guides brain development at the microscopic level, which ultimately sets the stage for how the mature brain operates.