Understanding how Alzheimer’s disease affects specialised nerve cells

Research projectProgressive functional disruption of inhibitory neurons in tauopathy

Lead Investigator: Dr Francesco Tamagnini

Institution: University of Exeter

Grant type: Junior Fellowship

Duration: 36 months

Amount: £197,655

Why did we fund this fellowship?

Comments from members of our Research Network:

'A clear (and convincing) presentation of a claim to the sort of individual encouragement we should be giving to the next generation of researchers.'  

'An impressive personal statement in which his enthusiasm for the subject matter came across'

'He has taken many opportunities to disseminate his findings and his love of research appears to complement existing studies of synaptic signalling in a very satisfying manner'

What do we already know?

The hippocampus is the brain region responsible for memory processing, and is usually among the first brain structures to be affected by Alzheimer's disease.

The hippocampus consists of two types of nerve cell: Excitatory cells pass on information and form distinct memories, while inhibitory cells regulate the activity of these excitatory cells.

The balance of function of both excitatory and inhibitory cells is essential for normal brain behaviour.

Recent research has suggested that clumps of the protein tau, one of the two main hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease, disturbs the normal function of inhibitory cells in brain areas involved in cognition, including the hippocampus.

What does this project involve?

Dr Tamagnini will use a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease to study the response from other brain cells when the inhibitory cells are stimulated. This will help to understand how well inhibitory cells are functioning at different disease stages. Alongside this, Dr Tamagnini will examine the activity of individual inhibitory cells, which will tell us how willing the cells are to become activated by a stimulus.

The combination of these studies will build a detailed picture of the key events that lead to inhibitory signals in the brain and how these processes change as Alzheimer's disease progresses.

In addition, Dr Tamagnini will develop state-of-the-art measurements to allow him to visualise the functioning of many inhibitory cells at the same time.

How will this benefit people with dementia?

This project will help us to understand the underlying changes that occur within a key brain region affected in Alzheimer's disease. This will help researchers to identify specific functions and changes associated with the disease, providing targets for possible drug treatments.