Neurodegeneration – neuronal inflammation
- At the University of Antwerp, research in neurodegenerative diseases is predominantly focused on dementia syndromes, with considerable expertise in Alzheimer’s disease and frontotemporal lobe dementia.
- Other extensively studied neurodegenerative diseases include Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and epilepsy syndromes.
- Research relating to the peripheral nervous system mainly deals with hereditary motor and/or sensory neuropathies, such as Charcot-Marie- Tooth disease.
- Finally, the innervation and neuro-immune actions in the gastro-intestinal tract are investigated in normal circumstances and in inflammation models.
This research is performed using a wide range of state-of-the-art techniques, approaches, models and equipment.
- Causative genes, disease-modifying/-modulating and risk factors can be identified using a multidisciplinary
- immunohistochemical and
- neuropathological approach.
- A variety of cellular, Drosophila and rodent models is available to evaluate key proteins as pathogenic factors and/or potential drug targets.
- Furthermore, biochemical markers are investigated to increase diagnostic accuracy and to identify at-risk populations.
- Finally, imaging techniques,such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), can provide in vivo, quantifiable and sensitive markers for early detection and long-term follow-up of neurodegenerative diseases in disease models and patients.
Neuronal repair and replacement
At the University of Antwerp, the latest approaches are employed (eg. Nanotechnology, microelectronics, neuronal tissue engineering and stem cell work) to repair, replace and improve damaged neuronal brain circuits.
- MRI and bioluminescence imaging allow the study of transplantation effects over time in small animal models, by visualizing and quantifying endogenous and externally administered stem cell recruitment in rodents and songbirds in vivo. These experiments are performed both in healthy animals to gain better insight into the survival, migration and function of autologous and allogeneic adult stem cells in vivo, and in disease and injury models to assess the potential therapeutic use of stem cells.
- Additionally, a combined molecular, pharmacological and physiological approach is pursued to further disclose the function of stem cells in the adult brain and the molecular and extracellular signalling factors directing stem cells to migrate to areas of cell loss and turning them into new neurons.
- Finally, new engineering options are developed to contribute to the construction of microscopic prosthetic devices.
At the University of Antwerp, neuronal plasticity is studied at many levels, ranging from
- mathematical modelling studies and
- neuroengineering approaches to
- imaging and behavioural studies in small animals.
The overall goal is to provide solid theoretical grounds for the interpretation of experimental findings.
Modelling studies enable a flexible approach, ranging from simulations of the diffusion of signalling molecules over detailed single-cell and network models up to system models linking synaptic plasticity to behavioural learning.
These studies are complemented by software developed for efficient single-cell simulation and for simulation of reaction-diffusion systems in realistic dendritic morphologies.
Songbirds are studied as a model for seasonal and testosterone-driven neuronal plasticity, auditory processing and learning; repeated MRI is used to establish correlations between alterations in neural substrate and behaviour. Other experimental studies include in vivo multi-unit recordings in anesthetized and awake rodents and in vitro patch-clamp studies of neurons and neuronal networks in brain slices.
Cognitive and behavioural neurosciences
At the University of Antwerp, research in cognitive and behavioural neurosciences is predominantly focused on a number of cognitive processes, such as learning, and on the link between behavioural phenotype and underlying pathology.
Psychiatric diseases, such as bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and mood disorders are studied with a multidisciplinary approach, including
- cognitive neuroscience
- experimental psychopathology
Additionally, the potential of neuromodulation as: a therapeutic tool for specific disorders is investigated, mostly using functional imaging. The findings in humans are confirmed by behavioural phenotyping of (transgenic) rodent models for human neurological conditions using test batteries of behavioural paradigms, ranging from evaluation of simple reflexes to the systematic registration of complex learned responses, possibly after pharmacological interventions. Finally, the songbird is an exquisite model for the study of auditory processing and learning using in vivo imaging.