Stephan Sigrists’ project awarded ERC Advanced GrantMarch 30, 2023 I ERC & FU Press releases
Source: FU Press Report
Professor Stephan Sigrist from the Department of Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacy at Freie Universität Berlin has been selected for an ERC Advanced Grant by the European Research Council. He is set to receive over 2.24 million euros over the course of five years to carry out his research project “SynProtect.” The neurobiologist and his team aim to conduct research on the biochemical foundations for brain resilience and in doing so also make a contribution to the development of potential therapies to treat dementia. ERC Advanced Grants provide support for well-established, prominent researchers who are looking to explore new fields of study.
Every second person over the age of sixty suffers from a sleep disorder, which may result in dementia later on. This means that treatments to tackle these symptoms are crucial if we want to improve our lifespans, health, and quality of life. Neurobiologist Stephan Sigrist and his team want to conduct research on brain resilience and the ability of the brain to cope with and adapt to stressful situations such as chronic sleep deprivation. “The extent to which our brain is able to build up resilience and stabilize throughout our lifetime strongly determines whether or not our brains can maintain cognitive performance and whether the risk of dementia increases,” says Sigrist. Unfortunately, there are still many gaps in the research when it comes to the molecular and cellular basis for brain resilience. The SynProtect research team wants to make a significant contribution to our understanding of the neuroscientific underpinnings of brain resilience, and thus help the rational design of therapeutic approaches to treat dementia.
The team will research two key processes that could result in brain resilience. One of these is the role of dynamic changes to the synaptic connections between nerve cells (which mediate activity), also known as synaptic plasticity. Changes to the electrical excitability of neurons brought about by adjustments to their molecular configuration with ion channels will also be investigated. Observations previously made by Sigrist’s group on the synapses in the brains of Drosophila fruit flies provided an important basis for the research project as a model for studying the mechanistic principles of how the nervous system functions. Drosophila sleep, and just like humans, they can also suffer from sleep deprivation.
The researchers working on the SynProtect project want to carry out a wholescale study of a brain-wide form of presynaptic active zone plasticity (“PreScale”) as a new resilience mechanism and map out its functionality. As Sigrist explains, “SynProtect will provide the ideal framework for further analyses of the interaction between synaptic plasticity, sleep patterns, and cognitive aging.”
Professor Stephan Sigrist has been professor of genetics at Freie Universität Berlin since 2008 and has been an Einstein professor since 2014. He is also co-director of the DFG Cluster of Excellence “NeuroCure” at Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the joint medical faculty of Freie Universität and Humboldt-Universität. Sigrist graduated from the University of Tübingen in 1993 with a diploma in biochemistry. He earned his doctorate in molecular genetics and biochemistry at the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory, which is part of the Max Planck Society in Tübingen. He completed his university professorial teaching qualification (Habilitation) in 2005 at the University Medical Center at the University of Göttingen, where he also received the “Award for Best Habilitation.” He is a specialist in the field of synaptic transmission between nerve cells.