Neuroscience 2022, San Diego- 12th-16th of November

Attending Neuroscience 2022 in San Diego was a great opportunity to learn the latest about the intricacies of neurodegenerative disorders, sleep or psychedelics. This, coupled with the opportunity to present research that I contributed to, turned the trip into an incredibly exciting week. Here are some things I’d like to share:

The neural basis of sleep- learnings from animal models – Lecture by Dr. Amita Sehgal

There are two mechanisms that govern sleep: circadian rhythm and homeostasis. Circadian rhythms refer to going to bed at night and waking up in the morning (with the light), homeostasis characterises the amount of sleep we need to get, which can be independent of the circadian rhythm- we need to make up for lost sleep if we don’t sleep enough at night. Plus, there are age and gender-specific sleep patterns (Hendricks et al. Neuron, 2000).

• The fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) has been an excellent animal model and helped us identify a multitude of mutations in genes that are similar to those affected in human circadian sleep disorders. For example, there are some mutants that have the need to sleep, but that are not able to.

• There is a link between sleep and health- Toda and colleagues (Science, 2019) identified a gene called nemuri, which triggers an increase in sleep. It’s an immune molecule encoding an antimicrobial peptide (AMP), that controls not just normal sleep, but also sickness sleep and sleep following prolonged wakefulness. When nemuri was released in the brain following inflection of the fly, the amount of sleep (in the flies) increased, and the bacteria was reduced, so in this case, the goal of sleep seems to be to cure sickness.

• There is sleep-independent and sleep-dependent memory, which are triggered at different points when the flies faced lack of sleep or lack of hunger.

• When it came to Alzheimer’s disease, I spent a large proportion of the time attending talks on high frequency brain oscillations (brain waves of a frequency higher than 80 Hz) and place and grid cells that inform our spatial navigation and which look like they are negatively impacted in Alzheimer’s disease. An interesting nugget to share (and which has been known for some time) is that overactive brain cells contribute to the spread of specific brain pathology in Alzheimer’s.

It was also incredibly interesting to listen to Dr Thomas Oxley present a method of helping people with full body paralysis control digital interfaces via electrodes implanted on brain vessels. Google’s Project Amber was also present, as Dr Sarah Laszlo talked about various areas in which the project was aimed at innovating and bringing translational neuroscience to the public. One of those was in designing a new EEG set without the high costs usually associated with making one. The team was successful at creating one (and highlighted that as much as they tried, they could not get rid of the chin strap that some find unfashionable) and have donated all the sets produced to teaching and research.

It was a shame to have missed the sessions on the effects of Covid on the brain, which took place as I was flying to San Diego. The conference was fantastic, though, and it was also brilliant to chat to the commercial exhibitors.


By Alexandra Petrache

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