New neurons for old brains
Adult neurogenesis, that is the generation of new neurons in the adult brain, is increasingly recognized as a key aspect of structural plasticity. A population of stem cells that persists throughout life is the origin of neuronal development in the otherwise “non-neurogenic” brain. Specifically, new neurons are added to the network of the hippocampus, the “gateway to memory,” dependent on activity and experience. They add flexibility to the network, especially if new information has to be integrated into familiar context, a function that is often lost in neurodegeneration, dementia and depression. At least in animals, physical and cognitive activity counteract the age-related loss of adult neurogenesis and build what we have called a “neurogenic reserve”.
One group, two sites
Our group consists of two “departments”, one at the CRTD – Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden and one at the DZNE Dresden. Both study adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus and its regulation by genes and activity.
The DZNE branch of the group focuses on three aspects that are particularly relevant in the context of neurodegeneration and the research mission of the DZNE as a whole.
1. Stem cell models
Aim of this research is to improve cultures of neural stem cells from the adult hippocampus of mice and humans, in particular by combining classical cell culture techniques with advanced biomaterials (Cooperation with Carsten Werner, CRTD).
Activity has lasting effects on adult neurogenesis and, for example, the proliferative activity of the neural stem cells in the hippocampus. We study, how this activity changes gene expression and how epigenetic mechanisms control these changes. The hypothesis is that the “neurogenic reserve” is associated with a characteristic epigenetic condition.
3. Testing of neurogenesis-related functions in humans
Progress in identifying the particular functional contribution that new neurons make to the hippocampus have opened up the opportunity to access this function in humans, including patients with neurodegenerative diseases.
The cooperation partner's homepage can be found here.