Alzheimer's disease (AD) is characterized by the deterioration of neurons in the brain.
When healthy, neurons may fulfil a variety of roles ranging from the control of movement to cognitive function. Cholinergic neurons that release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and mediate such functions as learning and memory are one of the groups of neurons that decline substantially in AD. Enhancing the communication between neurons and improving other functions of neurotransmitters have been the primary therapeutic foci, but these solutions are often insufficient in the case of severe neuronal degradation.
Our research aims to develop a better understanding of the processes involved in the decline of patients with AD and to uncover novel approaches to treatment of the disease through the following projects:
1. Anti-amyloid treatments and gene therapy for Alzheimer's disease
Our goal is to develop a multicomponent therapeutic strategy to halt the toxicity of amyloid-beta peptides, to promote neuronal survival and regeneration, and to improve cognitive function. We are using gene and stem cell therapies, anti-amyloid-beta approaches, and novel methods to deliver therapeutic agents noninvasively to the brain.
This project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Mental Health Foundation.
2. The development of cholinergic neurons
Evidence suggests that certain cell adhesion molecules regulate the development and function of cholinergic neurons; this project will assess these functions in three main parts. To begin, we will assess the importance of specific cell adhesion molecules in the development and maturation of cholinergic neurons. Then, we will elucidate whether the direct stimulation of given receptors by these cell adhesion molecules results in an increase in the activity of cholinergic neurons. Finally, we will elucidate intracellular signaling mechanisms through which these cell adhesion molecules control the function of cholinergic neurons.
These studies are important to the basic understanding of cholinergic neuronal development, which requires a complex orchestration of cellular and molecular interactions to produce characteristics specific to this type of neuron. Furthermore, the knowledge obtained on
developing cholinergic neurons may translates into strategies to promote cell survival, axonal growth and maturation for regenerating cholinergic neurons in the adult and aging brain.
This research is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.