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Translational Neuroscience

The research mission of the Department of Translational Neuroscience is to discover and delineate mechanisms and processes which are fundamental to the development of neural systems and to the control of behavior as well as to translate these to pathogenesis and disease models. We use cutting edge technology, disease models as well as computational tools to achieve these goals.

Our teaching mission is to raise the next generation scientists and clinicians with state-of-the-art knowledge, technical expertise and vision in the field of neuroscience. As a part of this effort, we teach in several Bachelor courses, coordinate the Neuroscience and Cognition master program of the Utrecht University and offer doctoral and postdoctoral training.

News

August 29, 2022 / Grants, News

ENW-M-2 grant for Heidi Lesscher and Frank Meye on risky play and stress resilience

New ENW-M-2 grant for our researchers! Recently the NWO Domain Board Science approved twenty-six grant applications in the Open Competition Domain Science-M programme. One of these grants was awarded to Heidi Lesscher (PHS, DWM) and Frank Meye (Translational Neuroscience, UMC Utrecht) to study if early life play opportunity, and in particular ‘risky’ play, promotes the development of cognitive control and stress resilience in later life. In this project, rats experiencing different degrees of play during early life will be compared for their degree of cognitive control under stress. Expectations are that enhanced opportunities for risky social play in early life enhance stress resilience in later life. We will also address the neurobiological effects of social play on cognitive control networks. Understanding how play shapes stress resilience is important for the prevention of mental health problems. Stay tuned for positions opening up related to this project.

“Very excited to team up with Heidi Lesscher to unravel if early life risky play opportunities alter neural networks of cognitive control to confer stress resilience in later life” Frank Meye

This research will in part be carried out at our Translational Neuroscience Department, as part of the UMC Utrecht Brain Center.

August 9, 2022 / News, Research paper

Leptin targets spatially diverse neurons

Leptin is a hormone that is secreted by fat and signals the need to stop eating and increase energy expenditure via leptin receptors (LepR). Various hunger and reward centers in the brain contain different LepR expressing neurons. The primary leptin center is the well-studied arcuate nucleus. Other hypothalamic nuclei are less abundant in leptin receptor but also essential in encoding leptin’s actions. The composition of these LepR neurons have not been well understood.

In their recently published paper in Science Reports, Nefeli Kakava and colleagues from the UMC Utrecht Brain Center explore the scarce LepR population in the lateral hypothalamus. This population is known for its effects on food intake and food reward, and may be defective in eating disorders. The authors successfully capture the transcriptome of these neurons using TRAP-Seq. Exploration of their molecular profile confirms the expression of diverse neuropeptides and receptors. Microscopy analysis reveal their diverse spatial expression patterns. Moreover, they unravel new markers that could have significant role in energy balance. They also explore what is the transcriptional response of these neurons to energy deficit.

“I am excited that we have successfully managed to capture RNA from this very rare albeit significant population of leptin responsive cells and hope our findings inspire new research”

Nefeli obtained her PhD in 2020 as part of the Adan lab, where she developed viral vector tools to target and manipulate the activity of brain cells involved in food reward and energy balance. In collaboration with the Basak lab, she has profiled the hypothalamic LepR cells using TRAP-Seq and single cell genomics techniques.

Leptin responsive neuronal diversity in the lateral hypothalamus

July 19, 2022 / News, Research paper

Characterising social stress responsive ventral tegmental area neurons

ePhys analysis of VTA neurons

In this study published at Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, Ioannis Koutlas and colleagues of the Meye lab, use the expression of immediate-early genes to characterize social-stress activated neuronal subsets in the ventral tegmental area. They show that cells of different molecular identities (dopaminergic, GABAergic, glutamatergic and combinatorial neurons) that are dispersed throughout the entire VTA are activated by a social stress episode. Furthermore, they validate the use of targeted recombination in active populations (TRAP2) to capture this VTA stress-activated neuronal ensemble and make it tractable for further manipulations. Finally, the use of TRAP2 allowed them to look into intrinsic electrophysiological properties of these neurons and show that stress activated VTA cells are more excitable than neighbouring cells that were not activated by stress.

Stress activates specific VTA neurons

“I am very excited that this work is published. It gives insight on stress-encoding VTA neuronal populations and provides us with the tools to answer further exciting questions” – Ioannis

Vacancies

We welcome open applications from PhD candidates and postdocs.

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