Research Spotlight: Of Mice and Men

By Brenda Shen

Every year, millions of dollars in funding go towards labs at McGill to further research in a variety of sectors. While many students encounter professors on a daily basis, many of us are unaware of the cutting-edge research that occurs at our university. Each issue, the Plumber’s Ledger will spotlight a research lab at McGill to share with students the innovative projects taking place on campus. This inaugural article will be focusing on Dr. Adrien Peyrache’s laboratory, in McGill’s Faculty of Medicine, located within the Montreal Neurological Institute & Hospital.

 

Following his post-doctoral work at New York University, Dr. Adrien Peyrache came to McGill in 2016 to start a lab dedicated towards understanding the neural circuits behind the brain’s navigation system through the study of head-direction (HD) cells. Like the name explains, certain head direction cells will fire when the subject’s head is facing a certain direction. Very little is known about these cells, especially when it comes to the neural systems which they’re a part of. Dr. Peyrache and his associates are currently focusing on the cognitive navigational processes in rodents as they exhibit some of the most refined exploration abilities in mammals and have shown to have similar brains to humans. Their research will help us understand the effect of neuronal networks in the brain which will take us towards further understanding the basis of many cognitive impairments and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

 

Peyrache’s team is currently conducting several experiments that all come together towards mapping out the neuronal process of navigation and the roles and functions of HD cells. Postdoctoral researcher Adrian Duszkievicz is specializing in the roles and functions of HD cells. Postdoctoral researcher Adrian Duszkiewicz is interested in how brain cells work together to recreate the environment around us, specifically focusing on our sense of direction and our inner ‘compass’. Duszkiewicz is trying to reverse-engineer this compass by activating and deactivating particular neural connection that may be important for its function. His research involves targeting the HD cells in the anterior dorsal thalamus and the postsubiculuum where he implants miniature electrodes inside of the brain to record the mouse’s brain activity using electrophysiology and an optical fibre to be used for optogenetics. Optogenetics is a new technique based in genetic engineering that allows for the control of a neuron’s activity, and thus functionality, by using specific hues of light. Targeted neurons have their genetic codes modified to create light responsive proteins, known as opsins. The implanted optic fiber can emit light to activate these neurons. When the light is turned on, a neuron’s activity can either be activated or inhibited based on the desires of the researcher. In Duszkiewicz’s project, he is utilizing green light to inhibit targeted neurons to better understand the neural connections behind navigation.

 

Another postdoctoral researcher, Guillaume Viejo, is also focused on our inner compass, but is taking a very different approach to this inquiry. Viejo utilizes a technique where brain cells emit light when they are active. A tiny microscope is the used to look at the activity of these cells which will help to determine how these cells come together to create our sense of direction. While their laboratory currently is focusing on their work with mice, Dr. Peyrache is also in the midst of starting a new research venture working with those suffering from epilepsy. He will utilize electrodes to better understand the neural processes that affect epileptic patients to hopefully work towards major advancements to the treatment of the disorder.

 

The lab also uses numerous analytical and technical programs to conduct their research, including 3D tracking and computer programming to process and data. Their lab currently has a Work-Study Program position available for undergrads who have training with Python and Matlab to help develop data analysis tools for the neuroscience community. They are always happy to welcome new student trainees interested in learning more about neural circuits and the techniques used to study them.

Those interested can contact Dr. Peyrache at adrien.peyrache@mcgill. If you’d like to learn more about the different projects and research occurring at Dr. Peyrache’s laboratory, you can visit his laboratory website at www.peyrachelab.com

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