The microscopic events that cause neurodegenerative diseases are still largely a mystery. The DZNE is therefore conducting laboratory studies to identify the causes and patterns of diseases, with the objective of finding starting points for developing innovative therapies. To do this, we investigate processes in human cells as well as in cells of model organisms, such as flies, fish, worms, and mice. We want to understand the underlying mechanisms of brain functions, on the one hand, and disease-specific and trans-disease processes, on the other. What makes you sick? What keeps you healthy? We are searching for answers in the molecular “gears” of life.
The spectrum of this research area is extremely diverse, ranging from fundamental mechanisms of cell biology or the question of how nerve cells communicate with each other, to the role of inflammatory mechanisms and abnormal protein deposits in neurodegenerative diseases. We are also investigating how genes influence the risk of disease and how external factors affect this (epigenetics). We also address the mechanisms of “neuroplasticity,” which enable the brain to change throughout life and compensate for damage to some extent. Increasing the potential of this ability could pave the way for new therapies. Another focus is on studying the processes of aging, since aging is known as a major risk factor for neurodegeneration.
Building on this diversity, and in close cooperation with the other research areas, the goal is also to identify disease indicators (biomarkers) and possible starting points for medications. The researchers involved in this work use cutting-edge technology from the fields of microscopy and gene and data analysis, to name a few examples. This includes omics technologies and methods from the range of artificial intelligence.