Finnish Centre of Excellence in Molecular and Integrative Neuroscience Research
Leader: Prof. Mart Saarma
Host organisation: University of Helsinki, Institute of Biotechnology
Institute of Biotechnology
Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Groups of the CoE:
Trophic factors in neuronal development, plasticity and disease
This Center of Excellence (CoE) combines seven internationally recognized groups to work on the structure and function of neuronal growth factors and their targets in brain development, neuronal signalling and basic mechanisms of disease. The participating teams are all working at the Viikki Campus of the University of Helsinki and have wide and complementary expertise in different fields of molecular and cellular neurobiology, neurophysiology, neuropharmacology, and systems neuroscience. This CoE brings together a critical mass of multidisciplinary expertise, which enables an ambitious, synergistic effort combining structural, molecular and cellular studies with modern transgenic, behavioural and imaging techniques and creates a unique environment for researcher training and career development. The molecular mechanisms underlying brain development and plasticity comprise one of the most complex research areas, and require multidisciplinary and integrated approaches. Our current collaboration on cross-talk among trophic factors, extracellular matrix and ion regulatory proteins has already produced several highly significant discoveries and offers now unique opportunities to develop them further through basic and translational research. We are studying structure, receptors and in vivo role of novel neurotrophic factors CDNF and MANF. We expand on our finding of interactions between GDNF family factors and syndecan-3 to study their role in the regulation of neuronal plasticity. We focus on the molecular and cellular functions of the ion-regulatory proteins (such as KCC2 and CAVII), on their regulation by trophic and matrix factors and on their roles in dendrite spine generation, synaptogenesis, network formation and epilepsy. Structural and functional knowledge about the novel neurotrophic factors and regulatory molecules will be used for designing new animal models and treatment strategies for neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, mood disorders and epilepsy. Our aim is to estasblish an internationally highly visible center of multidisciplinary and integrated neuroscience which is attractive for talented post-doctoral students and senior researchers world-wide.