11:38pm Thursday 19 October 2017

The glue that holds the brain together

A free public lecture at the University of Leicester is to discuss how the white matter of the brain could be the key to understanding and treating brain disorders –  not grey matter as previously thought.

Professor Robert Fern of the Department of Cell Physiology and Pharmacology will demonstrate how recent research into axons and glial cells, which make up over 50% of the human brain, has provided scientists with new insights into the importance of these previously overlooked cells.

Professor Fern said, “Traditionally the discipline of Neuroscience has focused upon neurons, the ‘little grey cells’ which we have been taught fulfil all the functions of the brain.

“Glial cells were originally described as the glue which holds the brain together, but in recent years we have discovered that glial cells can do almost anything that neurons can do, including integrate synaptic information. The fact that half the brain is ‘white matter’ containing axons and that glial cells are the predominant brain cell has important consequences for our understanding of brain disease.”

The lecture on Tuesday 11th October will focus on Professor Fern’s work on the cellular mechanisms of injury in axon and glial cells. Loss of blood supply to the brain can damage both these elements and is the cause of two important disorders.

Professor Fern explained, “Stroke, where a section of the brain (both grey and white matter) is destroyed leading to largely irreversible loss of function, is the third biggest killer in the Western world. Cerebral palsy, where white matter of the developing brain is injured, is the most common of all human birth defects.“

“Neither of these disorders can be effectively treated and there is reason to believe that this is because earlier attempts to design drugs failed to appreciate the significance of white matter and glial cell damage.”

The lecture ‘Your brain is made from cables and glue’, which is free and open to the public, will be held at 5.30pm in Lecture Theatre 1 in the Ken Edwards Building, University of Leicester.

Notes to editors:

For more information contact Professor Robert Fern on 0116 252 3098

Biography:

Robert Fern received his PhD in the lab of Phil Harrison at UCL from 1988-92 before doing a post-doc at Yale with Steve Waxman and Bruce Ransom. He worked there for three years at the end of which he took a junior faculty appointment. He moved to the University of Washington in Seattle with Bruce Ransom to form the new neurology department there as an assistant professor and stayed for six years before coming to Leicester in 2002 as Reader.


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