The European Research Council (ERC) has earmarked some EUR 2.5 million to fund research being conducted by neuroscientist Professor Dr. Robert Nitsch at the Mainz University Medical Center. His work focuses on the role played by so-called bioactive lipids in the brain that assumingly impair signal transmission at cerebral synapses, which act as 'switching stations' in the brain. Disturbances of this kind to cerebral network homeostasis, i.e., in the balance between inhibition and excitation in the brain, occur for example in people with mental illnesses and epilepsy.
"Understanding the correlations between cause and effect in network homeostasis is potentially the key to successfully treating patients with mental illnesses or epilepsy," said Professor Dr. Robert Nitsch, Director of the Institute of Microscopic Anatomy and Neurobiology at the Mainz University Medical Center. Specifically, Nitsch wants to find out how the signaling pathways of bioactive lipids are controlled and monitored in the brain. It is thus important to gain insight into the molecular and cellular mechanisms as well as into the structure of the molecules involved. In addition, Nitsch aims to study the functional consequences in the brain caused by changes to these molecules. "Once we have the necessary knowledge, it may be possible to find strategies to help us modify these signaling pathways. Assuming we are successful, it may also be possible to develop pharmaceutical preparations that can be used in people with mental health disorders," said Nitsch, who is also Coordinator of the Research Unit Translational Neurosciences (FTN) at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.
The highly promising work that Nitsch has already undertaken jointly with his colleagues at the FTN indicates that this research goal may well be attainable. Pilot studies in humans have demonstrated that brain function is disturbed in the presence of mutation of the genes responsible for encoding modulators of the signaling pathways of bioactive lipids. Such disturbances to network homeostasis, i.e., the balance between inhibition and excitation in the brain, also occur in patients with mental illnesses. According to Nitsch, research into the signaling pathways of bioactive lipids is also highly relevant to understanding cardiovascular disorders and the development of tumors.