TWO PDM GRANTS FOR THE HAESLER LAB

16 July 2019 - Research, People

The Haelser lab managed to secure not one but two KU Leuven PDM postdoctoral fellowships: both Cagatay Aydin and Jordi Cools obtained funding for their research proposals.

Cagatay Aydin's project is focused on novelty detection. In our daily lives, we constantly receive input through our sensory systems. We ignore most of these stimuli, but when we encounter a stimulus which we have never encountered before, it immediately attracts our attention. Detecting a novel stimulus is extremely fast and requires no effort. Therefore, the algorithm in our brain which compares incoming stimuli with our memory must be very efficient.

Cagatay will investigate this algorithm using a paradigm recently established in the Haesler lab, presenting mice with novel or familiar odorants. When mice perceive novel smells, they engage in high-frequency breathing also called exploratory sniffing. Therefore, the respiration rate of the mice represents a read-out of novelty perception. Cagatay will also record the neural activity in the main olfactory brain areas and manipulate specific neuronal cell classes to test their contribution to novelty perception.

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"Losing the sense of smell is one of the earliest symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, but it is currently unknown why this is the case," explains Cagatay.

"Therefore, our work will not only provide fundamental insights into the mechanisms underlying novelty perception but also contribute to understanding olfactory memory in the context of neurodegeneration."

Jordi Cools plans to build a microelectrode platform to record neural activity through molecularly defined synaptic connections. Recording and stimulating brain cells through tiny arrays of electrodes is important for example to study how the nervous system develops and operates, and what goes wrong in disease. However, while a large variety of different neuronal subtypes with different functions exists, conventional electrodes cannot differentiate between neurons they record from.

This is important for many research applications, including neuroprosthetics (e.g. ocular implants in color, bypassing spinal cord injury,...) and drug discovery (targeting subpopulations of neurons and synapse functionality). To tackle this challenge, Jordi aims to develop a novel, first-of-its-kind electrode platform that enables in vitro and in vivo interfacing with molecularly defined subpopulations of neurons.

Sh Jordi Cools Cropped 300 340 C1

"By covering carbon nanotube electrodes with synaptogenic proteins, we will induce localized synapse formation directly on an electrode, a partition of biology that has never been explored to date," says Jordi. "Overall, the results from this multidisciplinary research are expected to establish a new branch of neuroscience experiments that will advance our understanding about the biology of synapse formation and synapse-based neural interfaces."

Congrats to Cagatay, Jordi and the entire Haesler lab!

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