Neuroinflammation and Neurodegeneration
What kind of role play infections and the associated inflammatory reactions for the progression or even for the onset of neurodegenerative diseases? Recurrent infections and the involved inflammation may trigger a series of processes in the brain that finally lead to neuronal damage due to the immune response. Thus, better understanding of neurodegenerative processes could improve the therapeutic approach in neurodegenerative disease.
Until now, scientists assumed that the brain is an "immuneprivileged body" and thus completely separated from the reactions of the immune system. However, recent results indicate that the interaction between the nervous system and the immune system is more complex than thought to be so far. Our focus is to identify the influence of an infection and of the immune system on the onset and on the strength of neurodegenerative disease. Particularly, we are investigating the role of activation and regulation of inflammation processes and their involvement in the development of the Alzheimer´s disease.
Neurodegenerative diseases are the result of a progressive impairment in the structure and the function of neurons, leading to their death and resulting in an impairment of neurological functions, like memory loss. Learning and memory processes are most likely accomplished via activity-dependent changes in the strength of synapses called synaptic plasticity, which is investigated in our laboratory since many years. We are analyzing the synaptic plasticity in the hippocampus, the brain region for memory consolidation. Particularly, synapses can be either potentiated or depressed and such changes can last from hours to days (so called long term potentiation, LTP, or long term depression, LTD). In addition, structural changes at the synapses as well as changes in the number of dendritic spines (the site where excitatory synapses are made) have been correlated with activity-dependent functional changes. Interestingly, also these structural changes can occur in a positive (growth of new synapses) or negative (loss of synapses) way correlated respectively to positive (potentiation) or negative (depression) functional changes.
Together with cooperation partners from the DZNE in Bonn and from the University medical center in Magdeburg we are investigating the functional and structural plasticity under at these aspects:
- How does an inflammation in the central nervous system influence the function of neurons and glia cells in the brain?
- Are infections not only the consequence but also the cause of neurodegenerative diseases?
- How does the inflammation change the course of Alzheimer's disease?
- How can the development of neurodegenerative diseases be affected?
- Which pathways and mechanisms are involved in neurodegenerative diseases?