Understanding cannabis

Cannabis has a long history of use as medicine, with historical evidence dating back more than 4000 years.  The potential therapeutic benefits of cannabinoid compounds are huge, but this substance can also have negative effects. A recent paper by Andrés Ozaita and colleagues at the Neurophar laboratory of Rafael Maldonado (CEXS-UPF) has given new insights into the molecular mechanisms that underlie cannabinoid-mediated effects. Using mice as a model system, the authors had previously shown that blocking the mTOR pathway prevented the amnesic-like effects of THC (a synthetic form of cannabinoid). In the present study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, they have gone further, … Continue reading Understanding cannabis

Changes in the brain in patients with ADHD

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD involves robust alterations in the cortical cerebral mantle, as shown in a recent article by Òscar Vilarroya and colleagues from the Neuroimaging Research Group at the IMIM-Hospital del Mar. These alterations are most prominent in brain regions involved in attention processing, and are more common in the childhood form of the disorder than in the adult one. ADHD is a psychiatric and neurobehavioral disorder characterized by either significant difficulties of inattention or hyperactivity and impulsiveness or a combination of the two. Although it was initially regarded as a disorder exclusive to childhood – affecting about 3 to 5 percent of children globally -, nowadays its prevalence in adulthood is … Continue reading Changes in the brain in patients with ADHD

Coffee can be good for your brain

Several studies have suggested that daily caffeine administration can protect against brain injury in some cases, for example in animal models of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, as well as in ischemic and traumatic brain injury, or allergic encephalitis. Olga Valverde’s group at the CEXS-UPF decided to check if it could also have a positive effect on MDMA-induced neuroinflammation. The recreational drug MDMA, or ecstasy, induces astrocytic and microglial activation in mice striatum, which leads to inflammation and neurotoxicity. They injected caffeine (10, 20, or 30 mg/kg, i.p) for 21 consecutive days into mice, and then on day … Continue reading Coffee can be good for your brain

“Memory is built on concept neurones”

So, here’s the interview to Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, who came recently to give a talk at the PRBB. The title “The Jenifer Anniston neurone” was interesting… the content was much more so! This interview was published in the PRBB monthly newspaper, Ellipse. You can also read an earlier post about his talk here. Figuring out how the brain works is the obsession of Rodrigo Quian, professor at the University of Leicester (UK). This challenge led him to apply his physics training and a PhD in maths to neuroscience. With the discovery of the “Jennifer Aniston neurone”, or concept cells, it … Continue reading “Memory is built on concept neurones”

Listening to the language of neurones

Coming from the Rockefeller University in NY, Matthieu Louis leads the Sensory Systems and Behaviour group at the CRG, the only lab in Barcelona, and one of the few in Spain, investigating Drosophila neuroscience. His team comprises eight people with backgrounds in molecular biology, engineering and physics. Their aim is to correlate neural circuit function with behaviour using fruit fly larvae. “The Drosophila larva has a repertoire of complex behaviours and key cognitive functions. Yet its nervous system has 10 million neurones fewer than humans”, explains the physicist. The group tries to understand how odours are encoded by the olfactory … Continue reading Listening to the language of neurones

Neuropharmacology Research Unit (CEXS-UPF)

Drug abuse and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are generating a serious social problem. This is why Rafael Maldonado’s neuropharmacology group at the CEXS-UPF studies the common biological mechanisms involved in these two phenomena. They focus particularly in nicotine, cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy, and in the possible mechanisms underlying the abusive consume of these substances. Maldonado explains there are three factors to understand why some people become addictive and others don’t: drug consume (the quantity, the frequency, the mode); social and environmental factors; and individual vulnerability, which includes genetic factors. A classical example of the effect of the environment … Continue reading Neuropharmacology Research Unit (CEXS-UPF)

The New Cajal Era

More than 100 years have passed after the first contributions made by Santiago Ramón y Cajal to the neural network theory. Nowadays neuroscientists take advantage of innovative tools to study neural circuits in order to understand complex behaviours. This image by David D’Amico, from the group on neurobehavioral phenotyping of mouse models of disease at the CRG, shows the hippocampus of a transgenic mouse expressing yellow fluorescent protein (YFP) in specific subsets of central neurons. This type of tansgenic mice help scientists to understand neural networks in both physiological and pathological conditions. Continue reading The New Cajal Era

“We have only one chance to develop a brain”

Philippe Grandjean, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health at Harvard University, delivered a lecture in Barcelona invited by Jordi Sunyer, from the CREAL, a ‘model institution’ according to Grandjean. Sunyer introduced the talk about what the Danish-born scientist calls a ‘silent pandemic’: the effect of chemical pollutants on neurodevelopment. To what extent do in utero conditions affect adult health?  There are several studies that show that exposing pregnant women to mercury can affect the development of their children, even if they are not affected themselves. Minamata disease, a neurological syndrome caused in children whose mothers suffer severe mercury exposure, was discovered … Continue reading “We have only one chance to develop a brain”

The Jennifer Aniston neuron

No, we don’t mean to say that Rachel from “Friends” has only one nerve cell… This was the title of the talk Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, from the University of Leicester, gave at the PRBB a couple of weeks ago. This physicist did a PhD in maths and then turned to neuroscience, something that fascinates him. “I can see you. Isn’t this amazing?”, he said to start the talk. As the Chilean researcher said, we can all remember and have emotions. How do neurons do that? This is what Quian Quiroga has been trying to understand for the last 10 years, … Continue reading The Jennifer Aniston neuron

Overexpressing the Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in mice increases sensitivity to nicotine

A publication in Amino Acids by researchers from UPF, CRG and other centers provides the first in vivo evidence of the involvement of the CHRNA5/A3/B4 gene cluster in nicotine addiction. It happens through modifying the activity of brain regions responsible for the balance between the rewarding and the aversive properties of this drug. CHRNA5/A3/B4 codes for the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunits A5, A3 and B4. Together they form the ligand-gated pentameric ion channels that modulate key physiological processes ranging from neurotransmission to cancer signaling. These receptors are activated by the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, and the tobacco alkaloid, nicotine. Recently, the gene … Continue reading Overexpressing the Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in mice increases sensitivity to nicotine