The neurological diseases FENS-Kavli winter symposium 2017 covered diverse clinical research areas from chronic pain to Alzheimer’s disease (AD) to autism (ASD). In her article, Dr Laura Andreae draws out eye-opening common themes amongst the current research and discusses the significance of role of neural activity and plasticity and the multicellular nature of all these disorders.
Neural activity and plasticity are involved in all four neurological disorder areas covered in the symposium. In chronic pain, switching from acute to chronic pain can involve functional plasticity at many levels and in different parts of the nervous system. In addition, this plasticity can be modulated with the administration of drugs such as cannabinoids. In demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis, neural activity and plasticity are implicated too. Remyelination occurs via processes that are reminiscent of what happens during development. If this activity is blocked, the remyelination process is significantly impaired. Neural activity and plasticity also have notable roles in ASD and AD. There is some evidence that several plasticity rules may be affected in ASD and an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory neuronal activity is often referred to. In AD, synaptic plasticity is known to be impaired in AD which may be central to the pathology during the prodromal phases.
The other theme common to the session was the multicellular nature of the disorders. Neurological disorders involve other cell types such as glia in addition to neurons. In AD for example, genetic studies have implicated changes in microglial function in disease aetiology. In chronic pain research, tumour cells, immune cells, oligodendrocytes and astrocytes have all been implicated and in demyelinating disease, researchers have recently demonstrated that the interaction between oligodendrocytes and neurons may be critical to disease processes.
The session was concluded with a discussion that focused on how translatable disease and disorder models really are. It was questioned whether models were sufficiently reliable to target the right stage of disease and several fairly recent and prominent clinical trial failures were highlighted.
Laura’s article is well-worth a read for a thought-provoking discussion and fresh perspective on neurological disorders.