Molecular and Structural Mechanisms of Astrocyte-Mediated Cognitive Enhancement

Long-lasting memories define who we are and how we experience the world. Inability to form and access these memories, as in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), degrades quality of life and imposes a major burden on healthcare systems and society. Unfortunately, medical treatments that can prevent, slow down, or reverse memory deficits are non-existent. To develop new strategies for targeting diseases associated with memory impairments, a better understanding of how the brain acquires and encodes memories is urgently needed, and novel mechanisms must be effectively harnessed for therapeutic value.
Recent studies have revealed the unique abilities of astrocytes, star-shaped cells in the brain, to communicate with surrounding neurons, which plays an important role in enhancing memory formation. These findings represent a new perspective on how neural activity is regulated in the brain and they have significant implications for the development of cognitive augmentation treatments that can be applied in diseases such as AD.

This project will apply cutting-edge techniques to investigate the effect of astrocytic activation on the physiological, molecular, and structural properties of astrocytes and their neighbouring neurons and circuits. It will use this knowledge to rescue or mitigate cellular pathology, functional disruptions, and cognitive deficits in AD mice models. Results will provide a major step forward in understanding the mechanisms by which astrocytes directly regulate memory formation and uncover new modes of therapeutic intervention for brain diseases such as AD. Additionally, the project will provide a strong research environment, as well as capacity building and exchange opportunities for graduate students, clinicians, and researchers based in Chile and China.

The project is led in Canada by McGill University, working in collaboration with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, Zhejiang University in China, and Universidad de Chile.

This project was selected for funding through the fourth research competition of the Joint Canada-Israel Health Research Program. This initiative is a partnership between IDRC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Israel Science Foundation, and the Azrieli Foundation.

Project ID

108874

Project status

Active

Duration

36 months

IDRC Officer

Fabiano Santos

Total funding

CA$ 669,200

Program

Canada-Israel Health Research Program

Project Leader

Keith Murai

Institution

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre/L' Institut de recherche du centre universitaire de santé McGill

Institution Country

Canada

Institution Website

http://www.muhc.ca/research