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Benedikt Berninger awarded ERC Advanced Grant

22.04.21

Professor Benedikt Berninger has been awarded a prestigious Advanced Grant by the European Research Council for research to unleash the full potential of engineered neurogenesis for brain repair.

Benedikt Berninger, Professor of Developmental Neurobiology in the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology and MRC Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders said:

“IMAGINE will help us to better understand the wizardry underlying induced cell fate conversions in the brain. We hope this will inform our approaches towards repairing the diseased brain from within.”

The European Research Council is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based in Europe. ERC Advanced Grants support outstanding investigators who are established research leaders with an internationally recognised track record of research achievements. At the Centre for Developmental Neurobiology, we  are proud to host four ERC awardees, including three Advanced Grants.

Professor Berninger’s Grant, IMAGINE, stems from Benedikt’s lab’s discovery of a specific cocktail of proteins that  convert brain support cells ("glia") into induced neurons with hallmark features of parvalbumin-expressing interneurons, a neuronal subtype that is vulnerable in neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders. In IMAGINE, Benedikt and his lab will work to visualise the conversion of glia into these induced neurons using in vivo live imaging. 

The imaging will offer a new level of insight into the identity switch of the cells, revealing cellular intermediates in the process and confirming the genuineness of the glia-to-interneuron conversion. Whilst undergoing reprogramming, the Berninger lab will measure gene expression to correlate the intermediate states with their molecular signatures. They will also observe the structural remodelling of dendrites as induced interneurons integrate into pre-existing circuitry in the  brain in vivo. Whether these interneurons can then be recruited into sensory information processing circuits is an exciting question ahead of the lab, as well as probing their therapeutic potential in a mouse model of endogenous interneuron dysfunction.

This round of ERC Advanced Grants was especially competitive and only 8% of applicants were successful. ERC President Professor Jean-Pierre Bourguignon commented “We look forward to seeing what major insights and breakthroughs will spring from this investment and trust”.