Neural dynamics

Central nervous system function is managed by sophisticated and dynamic sets of neuron networks and circuits that regulate brain function. These highly active and tightly controlled circuits in turn instruct all behavioural and cognitive outputs of the brain, including movement, mood and memory. Understanding this complexity is fundamental to deciphering basic brain function but also to generating rational therapies for all neurological disorders, including mental disorders, neurodegenerative conditions and injury. We are only at the beginning stages of understanding these network dynamics and cannot achieve notable and effective clinical success if we do not understand how intervention strategies affect the dynamic nature of brain output and circuitry.

Centre for Neural Dynamics (CND)  is a University of Ottawa initiative with members from the faculties of Medicine, Social Sciences and Science. Its currents members are internationally recognized scientists who specialize in neural networks. This centre is one of the uOBMRI's greatest strengths. Because networking lies at the root of most outcomes for brain disorders, it is critical to study it within the framework of the uOBMRI's top priorities. The current strengths of the CND will be leveraged to understand how brain circuits are affected by various diseases including stroke, depression and Parkinson's disease.

The uOBMRI will undertake a number of initiatives related to neural dynamics, including:

The uOBMRI has supported the efforts of local researchers to increase our capacity to perform optogenetic studies in Ottawa. Optogenetics is an exciting technology that allows researchers to study the function and outcomes of very specific, defined events in cells and even networks by introducing “light-responsive” genes into them. These genes will only become activated in the presence of a specific type of light. The light can then be used to turn on or off the neurons that express the light-sensitive genes in brain tissue slices or in the brain of living animals. The latter allows us to investigate what happens to behaviour when they are activated versus when they are silent. This allows us to study how each cell, or group of cells, functions and how the entire network responds to this activation. In the context of the brain, this enhances our ability to investigate how the mechanics of the system’s wiring is built, how it is altered in disease, and how this can affect health outcomes. This exciting work is underway and is currently being used for depression and anxiety related studies.

Future Directions:

Protect and Repair initiative (PandR)

The Protect and Repair initiative will partner researchers who have expertise in networking with disease-oriented researchers in order to address the following questions:

  • Do new-born neurons in adults integrate into circuits following disease insult, and are these newly connected networks functional?
  • What are the networking changes in animal models and human patients suffering from stroke, Parkinson's and depression, and can they be modulated by therapeutic recovery strategies such as antidepressants, exercise and deep brain stimulation?

 

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