On Sunday, Richard Kraig, MD, PhD, William D. Mabie Professor in the Neurosciences, spoke to press on his work. The topic? A particle that’s a potential treatment for MS, and maybe the reason why exercise slows brain aging. In a project led by his lab members Kae Pusic, PhD, and Aya Pusic, Kraig has been working on isolating exosomes. These are tiny, tiny bubbles released by cells that have recently been found to help cells communicate with each other, even across vast distances in the body. Functioning very much like mail, the bubbles (the envelope) contain messages in the form of microRNAs (the letter), which the receiving cell reads and uses for instruction.
Kraig and the Pusic sisters have found that a certain type of immune cell releases certain exosomes into the bloodstream. These exosomes, when used in laboratory and animal models, appear to rejuvenate myelin, a protective sheathe around neurons. Since myelin loss one is the key hallmark of multiple sclerosis, they think this could be a promising way to treat MS. What’s really cool however, is what’s needed to stimulate the release of these exosomes–exercise. The researchers call it environmental enrichment, or regular physical, intellectual and social activity (i.e. exercise), and they think there’s a chance these exosomes are the reason why exercise keeps the brain from aging. They just recently received a prestigious $1.5 million NIH grant to study this, and are very excited by what they’re seeing so far.
In the spirit of exercise, I roamed around the massive poster hall, and here’s a sampling of what UChicago scientists were up to Sunday and Monday morning.
Chien-Min Kao, PhD, Associate Professor of Radiology, described a new tool for imaging brain function in live animals as they carry out motor tasks. The goal is to someday develop this technique toward imaging and diagnosing stroke in humans.
Richard Williams, Computational Neuroscience graduate student in the lab of Melina Hale, PhD, described how proprioception (the ability of an animal to sense its own body) helps fish swim. By studying the major nerve branches in fins and figuring out how feedback is processed and used in swimming, they hope to someday help, for example, build better submersible vehicles.
Melissa Runfeldt, Computational Neuroscience graduate student in the lab of Jason MacLean, PhD, describes how acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, affects the brain circuits that, among other things, control our sensations, actions and perceptions.
Kyler Brown, Computational Neuroscience graduate student in the lab of Dan Margoliash, PhD, describes how a particular type of neuron helps birds sing. By investigating both the neurons and the actual songs that come out of the birds, they hope to better understand how the delicate and precise motor control needed to sing is generated.
Austin Lim, Neuroscience graduate student in the lab of Daniel McGehee, PhD, describes a potential way of relieving the involuntary movements sometimes caused by a common therapy for Parkinson’s disease
Jeff Beeler, PhD, research associate professor in neurobiology (now an associate professor at Queen’s College, CUNY) and former member of Xiaoxi Zhuang’s lab, describes how a specific neurotransmitter receptor known to cause obesity causes said obesity. In mice, it looks like this encourages “thrifty” behavior for energy use–they decreased their activity and conserved more energy–rather than eating more.
Kae Pusic, PhD, neurology post doctoral fellow in the lab of Richard Kraig, MD, PhD, describes how a certain type of brain cell (one that functions as the main form of active immune defense in the central nervous system) plays an important role in a slow, spreading wave of neural activity in the brain that’s thought to play a role in generating migraines. And how environmental enrichment might be involved in this too.
John Dreixler, PhD, research associate with Steven Roth, MD, describes the creation of an animal model for a type of optic nerve damage that happens to some patients during spinal or cardiac surgery. The hope is this model will someday help lead to therapies that prevent or cure this condition.
Chris Gomez, MD, PhD, Albina Y. Surbis Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology, describes his work with Xiaofei Du, PhD, a research associate (assistant professor), on issues with an animal model of a rare motor disorder.
Jeff Beeler, PhD, presented the work of neurobiology graduate student Jessica Koranda in the lab of Xiaoxi Zhuang, PhD, describing a potential mechanism by which nicotine helps protect against Parkinson’s (don’t start smoking though, you’ll probably die from it way before it helps prevent anything).