Deteriorative Brain Disease Neurophysiology

Dr. Sandstrom’s lab in Health Professions 2310 is largely interested in exploring the way Huntington’s disease and other related neurological deterioration diseases compromise brain function from the perspective that views physiological disruption to precede behavioral symptom expression. 

What are the signs of early disruption in terms of neurotransmitter release control and the electrochemical activity of neurons within regions that become compromised?  Once exposed, can these disruptions of function be tempered or reversed by supportive treatments that might then prevent the onset of the more disconcerting behavior symptoms? 

To explore these concerns, this lab uses microdialysis to uncover and evaluate neurotransmitter release malfunctions and single-unit extracellular electrophysiology (recording from neurons), both in freely moving animals, typically mice and rats respectively. These animals model Huntington’s disease and other related diseases (Parkinson’s) and the explorations expose the manner in which the mammalian brain proceeds towards becoming sufficiently compromised to begin expressing behavioral symptoms of these diseases. 

Currently, our lab is focusing its energy and resources on developing a technique that will potentially reveal how new neurons that have been transplanted into compromised host brains connect and begin processing within the host circuitry as part of stem cell transplant therapy efforts. This will allow discrimination between various cell types and techniques to be compared and the establishment of neuronal connections and behavior-related activity to be monitored among the transplanted cells using a new technique called optogenetics.  This technique can render neurons sensitive to light, and our efforts are directed towards using this tool to reveal neurons of transplant origin by comparison to host neurons in freely-moving host animals receiving stem cell transplant therapy.