Thoughts on last year’s nEUROskeleton meeting

I really enjoyed the nEUROskeleton meeting in Brussels last year. What I found most interesting was the emerging realisation that the neuronal cytoskeleton with its “systemic” properties is a prime target for therapeutic intervention not only in regeneration and in preventing degeneration, but even in psychiatric disorders. As was pointed out at the meeting this is, for example, illustrated by the fact that most if not all genes involved in schizophrenia are regulators of microtubules, or by the finding that microtubule stabilising drugs can alleviate schizophrenia-like syndromes in mice lacking a microtubule stabilising protein. To me this made a lot of sense. Changes in nervous system performance cannot be attributed to properties of individual synapses or neurons. The system is dynamic and flexible and huge (in the order of 1014 synapses). To modulate its function it might very well be necessary to slightly modify thousands of neurons and synapses at the same time by targeting components common to all neurons such as the cytoskeleton.

On the other hand, interfering with something as universal as the cytoskeleton appears to be a rather broad and indiscriminative approach. In addition, I think at this point we don’t yet understand what exactly we are doing when we change, for example, microtubule stability. If I am not mistaken, more selective interventions aimed at subgroups of CNS neurons and targeting, for example, mechanisms of interneuronal communication have been shown to be successful in the past.

Nevertheless, I think that the renewed focus in the neuronal cytoskeleton with its “systemic” properties is a fresh and innovative way to look at the CNS. This will definitely open new avenues towards our understanding how the CNS works in health and disease and will lead to new strategies of therapeutic interventions. As indicated above, there is already compelling evidence that this holds great potential.

Friedrich Propst

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One response to “Thoughts on last year’s nEUROskeleton meeting

  1. I agree that tackling something as systemic as the cytoskeleton of neurons in the context of specific diseases seems counter-intuitive. Yet, the example of microtubule-stabilising drugs that you mention in the context of schizophrenia is a rather good one to demonstrate that the principle works. Thus, taxol and its analogues have of course long been used in cancer treatment, and have further powerful applications in neuro-regeneration (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&dopt=Citation&list_uids=21273450) and neuro-degeneration (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22423084). Thus the fact that cytoskeleton has such a global role can be of advantage in that “cytoskeletal drugs” may have a wider spectrum of application as usual.

    As to the meeting, other enlightening discussions where those about the cytoskeleton as a “common pathomechanism”, as well as the discussion about the rather surprising trend that pharma industry withdraws investments from brain disorders, although this is most obviously a big future market. I feel that both topics deserve an extra blog.

    Andreas Prokop

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