Formation of functional cortical networks is determined by a complex interplay between intrinsic genetic mechanisms and extrinsic signals. Among the latter, neurotrophic factors play a key role. In particular, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a member of the neurotrophin family, controls the survival and differentiation of specific neuronal populations in the peripheral and central nervous system. In the developing cerebral cortex, BDNF regulates the dendritic morphology of pyramidal neurons. Because dendrites serve a critical role in neuronal information processing, changes in cortical dendritic growth and branching by BDNF are likely to play a major role for the proper functioning of the brain and especially the cerebral cortex. Despite these observations, little is known about the mechanisms underlying these effects. Current work in our laboratory aims to investigate, at the cellular and molecular levels, how BDNF regulates dendritic morphology of cortical neurons. Previous data from our laboratory have emphasized the importance of the regulation of neuronal metabolism in the control of cortical dendritic development by BDNF.

Another aspect of our work focuses on depression, a recurrent and potentially life-threatening mental illness that affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Over the past years, studies at the basic and clinical levels have shown neuronal atrophy, cell death and abnormalities of regional cerebral blood flow and glucose metabolism in the brains of depressed patients. Despite these observations, the neurobiological basis of depression and antidepressant treatment is largely unknown. Our current project is aimed at understanding the mechanisms underlying depression and the actions of antidepressants.

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