Paper summaries & Press releases

Landmark fly brain study deciphers the genomic regulatory code behind neuronal diversity

The single-cell revolution is revealing more and more fine-grained insights into the biology of living organisms. The deep learning (AI) revolution adds unprecedented computational power to analyze these “big data”. A research team led by Stein Aerts (VIB-KU Leuven) has combined these two revolutions to sketch a new picture of gene regulation in all cells of the fruit fly brain, using deep learning to reveal how specific pieces of DNA steer neuronal identity, from birth to maturity.

Digging for brain disease biomarkers with innovative proteomics

Two VIB research teams join forces to look for biomarkers in blood and cerebrospinal fluid samples of people living with frontotemporal degeneration. This brain disease causes dementia, usually at a relatively young age. Backed by 2 million USD in funding from the US Department of Defense, Rosa Rademakers and Kris Gevaert plan to enrich low-abundance disease-related proteins using an innovative proteomic workflow.

PIKfyve sorts tau aggregates to lysosomes

Tau aggregates are found in brains affected with different neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, but how exactly they spread across more and more brain regions has remained unclear. A collaboration between the Annaert lab (VIB-KU Leuven) and the Neuroscience Therapeutic Area at Janssen Pharmaceutica has yielded important new insights into the molecular mechanisms that govern the transmission of tau aggregates.

opto-fUSI: Embracing the complexity of the brain

When you spot danger, you better act—fast! A team of researchers led by Karl Farrow and Alan Urban from NERF sheds new light on how the brain processes visual information to guide behavior. By combining optogenetics with functional ultrasound imaging in a so called opto-fUSI method, they were able to reveal the networks in the brain that are active when animals try to avoid danger. The results have been published in this week’s edition of Neuron.

Ultrasound imaging to study the brain

A team of scientists led by Alan Urban and Gabriel Montaldo developed and refined a 3D brain imaging platform based on ultrasound imaging that can speed up brain research. The technology, called volumetric functional ultrasound imaging allows to unravel brain function at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution. It is also promising for clinical application, as the technology is broadly applicable, easy to use and affordable.

Becoming a nerve cell: timing is of the essence

Mitochondria are small organelles that provide the energy critical for each cell in our body, in particular in the high fuel-consuming brain. In this week’s edition of Science, a team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen finds that mitochondria also regulate a key event during brain development: how neural stem cells become nerve cells. The seminal findings highlight an unexpected function for mitochondria that may help explain how humans developed a bigger brain during evolution, and how mitochondrial defects lead to neurodevelopmental diseases.

What happens around an Alzheimer plaque?

The brains of people living with Alzheimer’s are riddled with plaques: protein aggregates consisting mainly of amyloid beta. Despite decades of research, the real contribution of these plaques to the disease process is still not clear. A research team led by Bart De Strooper and Mark Fiers at the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research in Leuven, Belgium used pioneering technologies to study in detail what happens in brain cells in the direct vicinity of plaques.

New role for white blood cells in the developing brain

Whether white blood cells can be found in the brain has been controversial, and what they might be doing used to be complete mystery. In a seminal study published in Cell, an international team of scientists led by Prof. Adrian Liston describes a population of specialized brain-resident immune cells discovered in the mouse and human brain, and show that the presence of white blood cells is essential for normal brain development in mice.

Mutations linked to intellectual disability and epileptic seizures point to overly active ion channel

Two mutations identified in individuals with developmental and epileptic brain disease can be traced back to the same ion channel. Researchers have now elucidated how both independent mutations affect the channel’s function: by making it overly active and highly sensitive to stimulation. The findings are an important step towards unraveling what causes the patients’ symptoms.
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Science life

Mini-documentary asks kids what it’s like to have an immune disorder

This week, patient organizations raise awareness for Primary Immune Deficiency, PID for short, a clinical term for hundreds of congenital disorders of the immune system. About 1 in 2000 children and adults have PID and therefore become ill much more often and more seriously than others. A team of Belgian researchers and clinicians wants to improve PID diagnostics and raise awareness for PID. In a new mini-documentary, they bring the story of children and young people with PID and addresses common misconceptions.

Dementia and COVID-19: a health and research funding crisis

Neurological research is at a turning point. Emerging technological advances offer opportunities to understand brain function in health and disease in a way no one could have even dreamed of 5 years ago. With these advances, combined with new methods of targeting the brain with antisense therapy or therapeutic antibodies, we stand on the verge of breakthroughs in treating neurological diseases.

Liesbeth Aerts in Sydney - Belgian scientist living abroad

Until August 2017, Liesbeth Aerts lived in Sydney, where she worked as a dementia researcher at the University of New South Wales. She studied bio-engineering and neuroscience (in Belgium and in the UK, respectively) and did a PhD focused on the molecular mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease at VIB/KU Leuven. After a short stint in the US freelancing as a scientific editor, she moved to Sydney in 2015. There, she was involved in several ongoing longitudinal studies assessing cognitive decline in ol

When a 'like' is not enough

When you do research on neurodegenerative diseases as common and devastating as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, it’s easy to pitch your work to a wider audience. Generally speaking, the people I meet are interested in what I do, or at least happy that I am interested in it on their behalf. Most of them are glad to know their tax money is invested in research that can help us understand and (hopefully) eventually cure the illnesses that they or their loved ones may suffer from. Consequently, most of