News

Researchers suggest a new approach to improve neuron grafts in people suffering from Parkinson’s disease

Martin LévesqueTreating people affected by Parkinson’s disease by grafting healthy neurons is an attractive idea which has not yet given the anticipated results up until now.  Even if grafted neurons survive, they are not able to recreate the dopaminergic neuron circuits that are essential for normal brain function.  An international team led by Martin Lévesque, professor at Université Laval and researcher at the CERVO Brain Research Centre, might have figured out why.  In a recent edition of Nature Communications, the researchers propose a “recipe” to produce neurons that could reconstitute the neuron circuits that are destroyed by Parkinson’s disease.

Progression of Parkinson’s disease follows brain connectivity

Alain Dagher

Dr. Alain Dagher

A study by a group of researchers led by Alain Dagher from The Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University has tested the theory that brain degeneration in Parkinson’s disease (PD) originates in subcortical regions and spreads along neural networks to the cerebral cortex. By analyzing data on PD patients and healthy controls collected over one year, the researchers found that brain regions closely connected to subcortical regions showed the most degeneration over the one-year period in PD patients, and that this happens earlier than previously thought.

Researcher Hideto Takahashi decrypts signals from neurons

Hideto Takahashi

Hideto Takahashi

A discovery by Hideto Takahashi and his team paves the way for a better understanding of the mechanisms of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Did you know? Your body is made up of a hundred billion nerve cells that, like small computers, receive, process and deliver crucial information to your body. These machines are your neurons. They form the very foundation of your nervous system. It is through them that your brain converts the data transmitted by your retina into images and that your mood adapts to the situations you are living.

A non-invasive method to detect Alzheimer’s disease

John Breitner

John Breitner

Volume in brain region linked to physiological changes characteristic of AD

New research has drawn a link between changes in the brain’s anatomy and biomarkers that are known to appear at the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), findings that could one day provide a sensitive but non-invasive test for AD before cognitive symptoms appear.

How chronic social stress can lead to depression

Caroline Ménard

Caroline Ménard

A recent publication by Caroline Ménard shows that chronic stress, as occurs in cases of bullying, can make the blood-brain barrier more permeable to contaminants and microbes that may be in the blood.  As the brains of depressed individuals show signs of inflammation, Caroline Ménard and her colleagues had hypothesized that leakiness of the blood brain barrier could allow molecules and microbes to reach the brain, causing inflammation.

SickKids researchers discover precise molecular mechanisms that can influence memory

Zhengping Jia

Zhengping Jia

Learning and memory are crucial parts of human cognition, yet the biological processes that govern how we learn and store different types of memories are poorly understood. Although a cellular process called synaptic plasticity has long been thought to contribute to learning and memory, many of the neural mechanisms behind synaptic plasticity have remained unclear.

In a recently published study entitled The C-terminal tails of endogenous GluA1 and GluA2 differentially contribute to hippocampal synaptic plasticity and learning, researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have discovered the precise neuronal mechanisms that can regulate synaptic plasticity to influence distinct forms of memory. We sat down with Dr. Zhengping Jia, a Senior Scientist in the Neurosciences & Mental Health Program at SickKids who led the study, published online in Nature Neuroscience.

Canadian Researchers Reveal How Certain Chronic Diseases Can Worsen The Effects of Multiple Sclerosis

Ruth Ann Marrie

Ruth Ann Marrie

Multiple Sclerosis is known as a progressive disease in which symptoms worsen over time. But for some 85% of those who suffer, the first stages of the illness come in waves. The individual may feel perfectly well some days while others are marked with worsening or new symptoms.

Officially this condition is known as relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) and it is the focus of a large Canadian conglomerate known as the CIHR Team in Epidemiology and Impact of Comorbidity on Multiple Sclerosis, or ECoMS. As the name implies, the group aims to determine how co-existing chronic diseases – comorbidities – affect those suffering with MS. Last week, representatives of the team, headed by Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie at the University of Manitoba and Director of Manitoba’s MS Clinic at Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg, revealed their findings in the journal, Neurology.

uOBMRI researchers open new doors for Parkinson’s drug therapies

David Park

David Park

Dr. David Park has spent countless hours exploring how deactivating a gene impacts the way a cell handles the very nutrients it needs for its own survival and proper function. To Park and his research team, it’s an essential piece of the puzzle that is Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s affects 10 million people worldwide, causing a degeneration of the body’s nerve cells and a progressive loss of motor control.

Neuroscientists link memory fundamentals with Alzheimer’s disease in promising study

Paul Frankland

Paul Frankland

Deteriorating memory function is a scary, life changing symptom associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) – a neurodegenerative disease exhibited by cognitive declines such as speech, behaviour and thinking processes. Even though it is the most common form of dementia and the prevalence is continuously rising, there is no cure. While there are medications to help with symptoms, the disease ultimately results in mortality.

Child abuse affects brain wiring

Gustavo Turecki

Gustavo Turecki

Researchers from the McGill Group for Suicide Studies, based at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute and McGill University’s Department of Psychiatry, have just published research in the American Journal of Psychiatry that suggests that the long-lasting effects of traumatic childhood experiences, like severe abuse, may be due to an impaired structure and functioning of cells in the anterior cingulate cortex. This is a part of the brain which plays an important role in the regulation of emotions and mood.

The two faces of depression

Benoit Labonté

Benoit Labonté

Major depression affects the expression of genes in the brains of women and men differently

Major depression presents itself quite differently in women and men, and this dimorphism would have genomic foundations, suggests a study that has just been published in Nature Medicine. According to the first author of this study, Benoit Labonté of the CERVO Brain Research Centre at Université Laval, these differences are such that the search for new antidepressants would benefit from targeting mechanisms specific to each sex.

Pinpointing the origins of autism

Abnormalities shown to first appear in brain networks involved in sensory processing

The origins of autism remain mysterious. What areas of the brain are involved, and when do the first signs appear? New findings published in Biological Psychiatry bring us closer to understanding the pathology of autism, and the point at which it begins to take shape in the human brain. Such knowledge will allow earlier interventions in the future and better outcomes for autistic children.

Could olfactory loss point to Alzheimer’s disease?

John Breitner

John Breitner

Promising finding suggests odour identification tests may help scientists track the evolution of the disease in persons at risk

By the time you start losing your memory, it’s almost too late. That’s because the damage to your brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) may already have been going on for as long as twenty years. Which is why there is so much scientific interest in finding ways to detect the presence of the disease early on. Scientists now believe that simple odour identification tests may help track the progression of the disease before symptoms actually appear, particularly among those at risk.

Muscle function regained in CRISPR-treated mice with congenital muscular dystrophy, SickKids study finds

Ronald Cohn

Ronald Cohn

Scientists at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have used the gene-editing tool CRISPR to correct a disease-causing mutation in mice with a form of congenital muscular dystrophy, MDC1A. The findings, published in the July 17 online edition of Nature Medicine, show significant improvement in muscle strength and function among the mice treated with CRISPR, with no remaining signs of paralysis.

MDC1A is a rare neuromuscular disease affecting one in 150,000 worldwide. It is caused by a mutation in a gene called laminin alpha 2 and is characterized at birth by muscle weakness and low muscle tone, as well as brain abnormalities. Babies born with this condition eventually lose all muscle function and live an average of 30 years.

Brains are more plastic than we thought

Chris Pack

Chris Pack

Researchers train brains to use different regions for same task

Practice might not always make perfect, but it’s essential for learning a sport or a musical instrument. It’s also the basis of brain training, an approach that holds potential as a non-invasive therapy to overcome disabilities caused by neurological disease or trauma.

Research at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University (The Neuro) has shown just how adaptive the brain can be, knowledge that could one day be applied to recovery from conditions such as stroke.

Making information meaningful leads to better memory

Jed Meltzer

Jed Meltzer

When trying to memorize information, it is better to relate it to something meaningful rather than repeat it again and again to make it stick, according to a recent Baycrest study published in NeuroImage.

“When we are learning new information, our brain has two different ways to remember the material for a short period of time, either by mentally rehearsing the sounds of the words or thinking about the meaning of the words,” says Dr. Jed Meltzer

Brain area involved in addiction activated earlier than previously thought in recreational cocaine users

Marco Leyton

Marco Leyton

Non-dependent users also experience dopamine release in response to drug cues

Even among non-dependent cocaine users, cues associated with consumption of the drug lead to dopamine release in an area of the brain thought to promote compulsive use, according to researchers at McGill University.

The findings, published in Scientific Reports, suggest that people who consider themselves recreational users could be further along the road to addiction than they might have realized.

Common acne medication offers new treatment for multiple sclerosis – Study results offer safe and affordable treatment option

Luanne Metz and  V. Wee Yong

Luanne Metz and V. Wee Yong

A Canadian clinical trial led by researchers at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI), at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM), shows that minocycline, a common acne medication, can slow the progress of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (MS) in people who have recently experienced their first symptoms.

In addition to being an unexpected discovery — an acne drug benefitting a neurological disorder — the discovery is significant as it offers a safe and affordable treatment option for those with early onset MS. This discovery could impact thousands of newly diagnosed MS patients around the world.

Researchers identify specific neurons that distinguish between reality and imagination

Julio Martinez-Trujillo

Julio Martinez-Trujillo

New Western University research shows that neurons in the part of the brain found to be abnormal in psychosis are also important in helping people distinguish between reality and imagination.

The researchers, Dr. Julio Martinez-Trujillo, principal investigator and professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Dr. Diego Mendoza-Halliday, postdoctoral researcher at M.I.T., investigated how the brain codes visual information in reality versus abstract information in our working memory and how those differences are distributed across neurons in the lateral prefrontal cortex region of the brain. The results were published today in Nature Communications (https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15471)

Researchers identify a new factor essential for the healthy development of a child’s brain

Freda Miller

Freda Miller

Proper brain development is a crucial step in a child’s health. An important part of brain development is the creation of white matter, which enables different regions of the brain to rapidly and effectively “talk” to one another.

In a new study published in Neuron, a team of researchers led by Dr. Freda Miller and Dr. David Kaplan has revealed how oligodendrocytes, which are crucial for proper brain function and that are damaged or altered in conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, autism and concussions, are formed during development.

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.