Carlos Fitzsimons has published a total of 81 scientific articles, including 75 peer-reviewed articles and 6 book chapters, accumulating a total of more than 3350 citations. Below, there is a summary of the peer-reviewed articles published by the Fitzsimons Lab since 2013.



Sanguino-Gómez J, Buurstede JC, Abiega O, Fitzsimons CP, Lucassen PJ, Eggen BJ, Lesuis SL, Meijer OC, Krugers HJ.

Eur J Neurosci. 2021 Mar 16. doi: 10.1111/ejn.15188.

Stressful experiences evoke, among others, a rapid increase of brain (nor)epinephrine (NE) levels and a slower increase in glucocorticoid hormones (GCs) in the brain. Microglia are key regulators of neuronal function and contain receptors for NE and GCs. These brain cells may therefore potentially be involved in modulating stress-effects on neuronal function and learning and memory. In this review, we discuss that stress induces (1) an increase in microglial numbers as well as (2) a shift towards a proinflammatory profile. These microglia have (3) impaired crosstalk with neurons, and (4) disrupted glutamate signaling. Moreover, microglial immune responses after stress (5) alter the kynurenine pathway through metabolites that impair glutamatergic transmission. All these effects could be involved in the impairment in memory and memory synapses caused by (prolonged) stress, implicating this cell type as a potential target in stress-related memory impairments.



Bielefeld P, Abbink MR, Davidson AR, Reijner N, Abiega O, Lucassen PJ, Korosi A, Fitzsimons CP.

Stress. 2021 Mar;24(2):189-195.

Stress is a potent environmental factor that can confer potent and enduring effects on brain structure and function. Exposure to stress during early life (ELS) has been linked to a wide range of consequences later in life. In particular, ELS exerts lasting effects on neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus, suggesting that ELS is a significant regulator of adult neural stem cell numbers and function. Here, we investigated the effect of ELS on cell proliferation and the numbers of neural stem/precursor cells in another neurogenic region: the hypothalamus of adult mice. We show that ELS has long-term suppressive effects on cell proliferation in the hypothalamic parenchyma and reduces the numbers of putative hypothalamic neural stem/precursor cells at 4 months of age. Specifically, ELS reduced the number of PCNA + cells present in hypothalamic areas surrounding the 3rd ventricle with a specific reduction in the proliferation of Sox2+/Nestin-GFP + putative stem cells present in the median eminence at the base of the 3rd ventricle. Furthermore, ELS reduced the total numbers of β-tanycytes lining the ventral 3rd ventricle, without affecting α-tanycyte numbers in more dorsal areas. These results are the first to indicate that ELS significantly reduces proliferation and β-tanycyte numbers in the adult hypothalamus, and may have (patho)physiological consequences for metabolic regulation or other hypothalamic functions in which β-tanycytes are involved.


Gu Y, Ge S, Fitzsimons CP.

Front Neurosci. 2020 Sep 3;14:885.

No abstract available


Genzel L, Adan R, Berns A, van den Beucken JJJP, Blokland A, Boddeke EHWGM, Bogers WM, Bontrop R, Bulthuis R, Bousema T, Clevers H, Coenen TCJJ, van Dam AM, Deen PMT, van Dijk KW, Eggen BJL, Elgersma Y, Erdogan I, Englitz B, Fentener van Vlissingen JM, la Fleur S, Fouchier R, Fitzsimons CP, Frieling W, Haagmans B, Heesters BA, Henckens MJAG, Herfst S, Hol E, van den Hove D, de Jonge MI, Jonkers J, Joosten LAB, Kalsbeek A, Kamermans M, Kampinga HH, Kas MJ, Keijer JA, Kersten S, Kiliaan AJ, Kooij TWA, Kooijman S, Koopman WJH, Korosi A, Krugers HJ, Kuiken T, Kushner SA, Langermans JAM, Lesscher HMB, Lucassen PJ, Lutgens E, Netea MG, Noldus LPJJ, van der Meer JWM, Meye FJ, Mul JD, van Oers K, Olivier JDA, Pasterkamp RJ, Philippens IHCHM, Prickaerts J, Pollux BJA, Rensen PCN, van Rheenen J, van Rij RP, Ritsma L, Rockx BHG, Roozendaal B, van Schothorst EM, Stittelaar K, Stockhofe N, Swaab DF, de Swart RL, Vanderschuren LJMJ, de Vries TJ, de Vrij F, van Wezel R, Wierenga CJ, Wiesmann M, Willuhn I, de Zeeuw CI, Homberg JR.

Curr Biol. 2020 Sep 21;30(18):R1014-R1018. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2020.08.030. Epub 2020 Aug 10

Recently, a petition was offered to the European Commission calling for an immediate ban on animal testing. Although a Europe-wide moratorium on the use of animals in science is not yet possible, there has been a push by the non-scientific community and politicians for a rapid transition to animal-free innovations. Although there are benefits for both animal welfare and researchers, advances on alternative methods have not progressed enough to be able to replace animal research in the foreseeable future. This trend has led first and foremost to a substantial increase in the administrative burden and hurdles required to make timely advances in research and treatments for human and animal diseases. The current COVID-19 pandemic clearly highlights how much we actually rely on animal research. COVID-19 affects several organs and systems, and the various animal-free alternatives currently available do not come close to this complexity. In this essay, we therefore argue that the use of animals is essential for the advancement of human and veterinary health.



July 2020

A decrease in adult hippocampal neurogenesis has been linked to age-related cognitive impairment. However, the mechanisms involved in this age-related reduction remain elusive. Glucocorticoid hormones (GC) are important regulators of neural stem/precursor cells (NSPC) proliferation. GC are released from the adrenal glands in ultradian secretory pulses that generate characteristic circadian oscillations. Here, we investigated the hypothesis that GC oscillations prevent NSPC activation and preserve a quiescent NSPC pool in the aging hippocampus. We found that hippocampal NSPC populations lacking expression of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) decayed exponentially with age, while GR-positive populations decayed linearly and predominated in the hippocampus from middle age onwards. Importantly, GC oscillations controlled NSPC activation and GR knockdown reactivated NSPC proliferation in aged mice. When modeled in primary hippocampal NSPC cultures, GC oscillations control cell cycle progression and induce specific genome-wide DNA methylation profiles. GC oscillations induced lasting changes in the methylation state of a group of gene promoters associated with cell cycle regulation and the canonical Wnt signaling pathway. Finally, in a mouse model of accelerated aging, we show that disruption of GC oscillations induces lasting changes in dendritic complexity, spine numbers and morphology of newborn granule neurons. Together, these results indicate that GC oscillations preserve a population of GR-expressing NSPC during aging, preventing their activation possibly by epigenetic programming through methylation of specific gene promoters. Our observations suggest a novel mechanism mediated by GC that controls NSPC proliferation and preserves a dormant NSPC pool, possibly contributing to a neuroplasticity reserve in the aging brain.



April 3, 2020

No abstract available



March 2, 2020

In this perspective article, we reflect on the recent debate about the existence of human neurogenesis and discuss direct, and also indirect, support for the ongoing formation, and functional relevance, of new neurons in the adult and aged human hippocampus. To explain the discrepancies between several prominently published human studies, we discuss critical methodological aspects and highlight the importance of optimal tissue preservation and processing for histological examination. We further discuss novel approaches, like single-cell/nucleus sequencing and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, that will help advance the study of human neurogenesis to its fullest potential - understanding its contribution to human hippocampal functions and related disorders like depression and dementia.



Jun 6, 2019

Neuroinflammation and neurogenesis have both been the subject of intensive investigation over the past 20 years. The sheer complexity of their regulation and their ubiquity in various states of health and disease have sometimes obscured the progress that has been made in unraveling their mechanisms and regulation. A recent study by Kozareva et al. (Neuronal Signaling (2019) 3), provides evidence that the orphan nuclear receptor TLX is central to communication between microglia and neural precursor cells and could help us understand how inflammation, mediated by microglia, influences the development of new neurons in the adult hippocampus. Here, we put recent studies on TLX into the context of what is known about adult neurogenesis and microglial activation in the brain, along with the many hints that these processes must be inter-related.

October 2019

Glucocorticoids are among the most effective drugs to treat asthma. However, the severe adverse effects associated generate the need for its therapeutic optimization. Conversely, though histamine is undoubtedly related to asthma development, there is a lack of efficacy of antihistamines in controlling its symptoms, which prevents their clinical application. We have reported that antihistamines potentiate glucocorticoids' responses in vitro and recent observations have indicated that the coadministration of an antihistamine and a synthetic glucocorticoid has synergistic effects on a murine model of allergic rhinitis. Here, the aim of this work is to establish if this therapeutic combination could be beneficial in a murine model of asthma. We used an allergen-induced model of asthma (employing ovalbumin) to evaluate the effects of the synthetic glucocorticoid dexamethasone combined with the antihistamine azelastine. Our results indicate that the cotreatment with azelastine and a suboptimal dose of dexamethasone can improve allergic lung inflammation as shown by a decrease in eosinophils in bronchoalveolar lavage, fewer peribronchial and perivascular infiltrates, and mucin-producing cells. In addition, serum levels of allergen-specific IgE and IgG1 were also reduced, as well as the expression of lung inflammatory-related genes IL-4, IL-5, Muc5AC, and Arginase I. The potentiation of dexamethasone effects by azelastine could allow to reduce the effective glucocorticoid dose needed to achieve a therapeutic effect. These findings provide first new insights into the potential benefits of glucocorticoids and antihistamines combination for the treatment of asthma and grants further research to evaluate this approach in other related inflammatory conditions.

October 2019

Adult hippocampal neurogenesis plays a critical role in a wide spectrum of hippocampus-dependent functions. Brain pathologies that involve the hippocampus like epilepsy, stroke, and traumatic brain injury, are commonly associated with cognitive impairments and mood disorders. These insults can affect neural stem cells and the subsequent neurogenic cascade in the hippocampus, resulting in the induction of aberrant neurogenesis, which is thought to compromise hippocampal network function, thereby hampering hippocampus-dependent behavior. We here summarize recent preclinical literature on hippocampal insult-induced changes in neurogenesis and based on that, we propose that normalizing aberrant neurogenesis post-insult may help to prevent or rescue behavioral deficits which could help develop novel therapeutic strategies.

March 2019

Regulatory factors that control gene transcription in multicellular organisms are assembled in multicomponent complexes by combinatorial interactions. In this context, nuclear receptors provide well-characterized and physiologically relevant systems to study ligand-induced transcription resulting from the integration of cellular and genomic information in a cell- and gene-specific manner. Here, we developed a mathematical model describing the interactions between the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) and other components of a multifactorial regulatory complex controlling the transcription of GR-target genes, such as coregulator peptides. We support the validity of the model in relation to gene-specific GR transactivation with gene transcription data from A549 cells and in vitro real time quantification of coregulator-GR interactions. The model accurately describes and helps to interpret ligand-specific and gene-specific transcriptional regulation by the GR. The comprehensive character of the model allows future insight into the function and relative contribution of the molecular species proposed in ligand- and gene-specific transcriptional regulation.

February 2019

Convulsive seizures promote adult hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN) through a transient activation of neural stem/progenitor cells (NSPCs) in the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentate gyrus (DG). However, in a significant population of epilepsy patients, non-convulsive seizures (ncSZ) are observed. The response of NSPCs to non-convulsive seizure induction has not been characterized before. We here studied first the short-term effects of controlled seizure induction on NSPCs fate and identity. We induced seizures of controlled intensity by intrahippocampally injecting increasing doses of the chemoconvulsant kainic acid (KA) and analyzed their effect on subdural EEG recordings, hippocampal structure, NSPC proliferation and the number and location of immature neurons shortly after seizure onset. After establishing a KA dose that elicits ncSZ, we then analyzed the effects of ncSZ on NSPC proliferation and NSC identity in the hippocampus. ncSZ specifically triggered neuroblast proliferation, but did not induce proliferation of NSPCs in the SGZ, 3 days post seizure onset. However, ncSZ induced significant changes in NSPC composition in the hippocampus, including the generation of reactive NSCs. Interestingly, intrahippocampal injection of a combination of two anti microRNA oligonucleotides targeting microRNA-124 and -137 normalized neuroblast proliferation and prevented NSC loss in the DG upon ncSZ. Our results show for the first time that ncSZ induce significant changes in neuroblast proliferation and NSC composition. Simultaneous antagonism of both microRNA-124 and -137 rescued seizure-induced alterations in NSPC, supporting their coordinated action in the regulation of NSC fate and proliferation and their potential for future seizure therapies.

August 2018

Microglia dynamically adapt their morphology and function during increasing age. However, the mechanisms behind these changes are to date poorly understood. Glucocorticoids (GCs) are long known and utilized for their immunomodulatory actions and endogenous GC levels are described to alter with advancing age. We here tested the hypothesis that age-associated elevations in GC levels implicate microglia function and morphology. Our data indicate a decrease in microglial complexity and a concomitant increase in GC levels during aging. Interestingly, enhancing GC levels in young mice enhanced microglial ramifications, while the knockdown of the glucocorticoid receptor expression in old mice aggravated age-associated microglial amoebification. These data suggest that GCs increase ramification of hippocampal microglia and may modulate age-associated changes in microglial morphology.

November 2017

Hippocampal neural stem/progenitor cells (NSPCs) proliferate and differentiate to generate new neurons across the life span of most mammals, including humans. This process takes place within a characteristic local microenvironment where NSPCs interact with a variety of other cell types and encounter systemic regulatory factors. Within this microenvironment, cell intrinsic gene expression programs are modulated by cell extrinsic signals through complex interactions, in many cases involving short non-coding RNA molecules, such as miRNAs. Here we review the regulation of gene expression in NSPCs by miRNAs and its possible implications for epilepsy, which has been linked to alterations in adult hippocampal neurogenesis.

October 2017

Adult neural stem and progenitor cells (NSPCs) offer a unique opportunity for neural regeneration and niche modification in physiopathological conditions, harnessing the capability to modify from neuronal circuits to glial scar. Findings exposing the vast plasticity and potential of NSPCs have accumulated over the past years and we currently know that adult NSPCs can naturally give rise not only to neurons but also to astrocytes and reactive astrocytes, and eventually to oligodendrocytes through genetic manipulation. We can consider NSPCs as endogenous flexible tools to fight against neurodegenerative and neurological disorders and aging. In addition, NSPCs can be considered as active agents contributing to chronic brain alterations and as relevant cell populations to be preserved, so that their main function, neurogenesis, is not lost in damage or disease. Altogether we believe that learning to manipulate NSPC is essential to prevent, ameliorate or restore some of the cognitive deficits associated with brain disease and injury, and therefore should be considered as target for future therapeutic strategies. The first step to accomplish this goal is to target them specifically, by unveiling and understanding their unique markers and signaling pathways.

March 2017

Lack of scientific reproducibility is a growing concern and weak experimental practices may contribute to irreproducibility. Here, we describe an optimized and versatile protocol for stereotaxic intrahippocampal administration of Kainic Acid (KA) in mice with a C57Bl6 background. In this protocol, KA administration is combined with in vivo recording of neuronal activity with wired and wireless setups. Following our protocol, KA administration results in a robust dose-dependent induction of low-level epileptiform activity or Status Epilepticus (SE) and induces previously characterized hallmarks of seizure-associated pathology. The procedure consists of three main steps: Craniotomy, stereotaxic administration of KA, and placement of recording electrodes in intrahippocampal, and subdural locations. This protocol offers extended possibilities compared to the systemic administration of KA, as it allows the researcher to accurately regulate the local dose of KA and resulting seizure activity, and permits the use and study of convulsive and non-convulsive KA doses, resulting in higher reproducibility and lower inter-individual variability and mortality rates. Caution should be taken when translating this procedure to different strains of mice as inter-strain sensitivity to KA has been described before. The procedure can be performed in ~1 h by a trained researcher, while intrahippocampal administration of KA without placing recording electrodes can be done in 25 min, and can be easily adapted to the titrated intrahippocampal administration of other drugs.

February 2017

Naturally occurring oscillations in glucocorticoids induce a cyclic activation of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), a well-characterized ligand-activated transcription factor. These cycles of GR activation/deactivation result in rapid GR exchange at genomic response elements and GR recycling through the chaperone machinery, ultimately generating pulses of GR-mediated transcriptional activity of target genes. In a recent article we have discussed the implications of circadian and high-frequency (ultradian) glucocorticoid oscillations for the dynamic control of gene expression in hippocampal neural stem/progenitor cells (NSPCs) (Fitzsimons et al., Front. Neuroendocrinol., 2016). Interestingly, this oscillatory transcriptional activity is common to other transcription factors, many of which regulate key biological functions in NSPCs, such as NF-kB, p53, Wnt and Notch. Here, we discuss the oscillatory behavior of these transcription factors, their role in a biologically accurate target regulation and the potential importance for a dynamic control of transcription activity and gene expression in NSPCs.

May 2017

The new high-sensitive and high-resolution technique, Re-scan Confocal Microscopy (RCM), is based on a standard confocal microscope extended with a re-scan detection unit. The re-scan unit includes a pair of re-scanning mirrors that project the emission light onto a camera in a scanning manner. The signal-to-noise ratio of Re-scan Confocal Microscopy is improved by a factor of 4 compared to standard confocal microscopy and the lateral resolution of Re-scan Confocal Microscopy is 170 nm (compared to 240 nm for diffraction limited resolution, 488 nm excitation, 1.49 NA). Apart from improved sensitivity and resolution, the optical setup of Re-scan Confocal Microscopy is flexible in its configuration in terms of control of the mirrors, lasers and filters. Because of this flexibility, the Re-scan Confocal Microscopy can be configured to address specific biological applications. In this paper, we explore a number of possible configurations of Re-scan Confocal Microscopy for specific biomedical applications such as multicolour, FRET, ratio-metric (e.g. pH and intracellular Ca2+ measurements) and FRAP imaging.

August 2016

Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) can develop from alterations in hippocampal structure and circuit characteristics, and can be modeled in mice by administration of kainic acid (KA). Adult neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus (DG) contributes to hippocampal functions and has been reported to contribute to the development of TLE. Some of the phenotypical changes include neural stem and precursor cells (NPSC) apoptosis, shortly after their birth, before they produce hippocampal neurons. Here we explored these early phenotypical changes in the DG 3 days after a systemic injection of KA inducing status epilepticus (KA-SE), in mice. We performed a multi-omics experimental setup and analyzed DG tissue samples using proteomics, transcriptomics and microRNA profiling techniques, detecting the expression of 2327 proteins, 13401 mRNAs and 311 microRNAs. We here present a description of how these data were obtained and make them available for further analysis and validation. Our data may help to further identify and characterize molecular mechanisms involved in the alterations induced shortly after KA-SE in the mouse DG.

April 2016

Psychosocial stress, and within the neuroendocrine reaction to stress specifically the glucocorticoid hormones, are well-characterized inhibitors of neural stem/progenitor cell proliferation in the adult hippocampus, resulting in a marked reduction in the production of new neurons in this brain area relevant for learning and memory. However, the mechanisms by which stress, and particularly glucocorticoids, inhibit neural stem/progenitor cell proliferation remain unclear and under debate. Here we review the literature on the topic and discuss the evidence for direct and indirect effects of glucocorticoids on neural stem/progenitor cell proliferation and adult neurogenesis. Further, we discuss the hypothesis that glucocorticoid rhythmicity and oscillations originating from the activity of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, may be crucial for the regulation of neural stem/progenitor cells in the hippocampus, as well as the implications of this hypothesis for pathophysiological conditions in which glucocorticoid oscillations are affected.


December 2015

Histamine H1 receptor (H1R) antagonists and glucocorticoid receptor (GR) agonists are used to treat inflammatory conditions such as allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis and asthma. Consistent with the high morbidity levels of such inflammatory conditions, these receptors are the targets of a vast number of approved drugs, and in many situations their ligands are co-administered. However, this drug association has no clear rationale and has arisen from clinical practice. We hypothesized that H1R signaling could affect GR-mediated activity, impacting on its transcriptional outcome. Indeed, our results show a dual regulation of GR activity by the H1R: a potentiation mediated by G-protein βγ subunits and a parallel inhibitory effect mediated by Gαq-PLC pathway. Activation of the H1R by its full agonists resulted in a composite potentiating effect. Intriguingly, inactivation of the Gαq-PLC pathway by H1R inverse agonists resulted also in a potentiation of GR activity. Moreover, histamine and clinically relevant antihistamines synergized with the GR agonist dexamethasone to induce gene transactivation and transrepression in a gene-specific manner. Our work provides a delineation of molecular mechanisms underlying the widespread clinical association of antihistamines and GR agonists, which may contribute to future dosage optimization and reduction of well-described side effects associated with glucocorticoid administration.

September 2015

Exposure to stress is one of the best-known negative regulators of adult neurogenesis (AN). We discuss changes in neurogenesis in relation to exposure to stress, glucocorticoid hormones, and inflammation, with a particular focus on early development and on lasting effects of stress. Although the effects of acute and mild stress on AN are generally brief and can be quickly overcome, chronic exposure or more severe forms of stress can induce longer lasting reductions in neurogenesis that can, however, in part, be overcome by subsequent exposure to exercise, drugs targeting the stress system, and some antidepressants. Exposure to stress, particularly during the sensitive period of early life, may (re)program brain plasticity, in particular, in the hippocampus. This may increase the risk to develop cognitive or anxiety symptoms, common to brain diseases like dementia and depression in which plasticity changes occur, and a normalization of neurogenesis may be required for a successful treatment response and recovery.

July 2015

Adult neurogenesis continuously contributes new neurons to hippocampal circuits and the programmed death of a subset of immature cells provides a primary mechanism controlling this contribution. Epileptic seizures induce strong structural changes in the hippocampus, including the induction of adult neurogenesis, changes in gene expression and mitochondrial dysfunction, which may all contribute to epileptogenesis. However, a possible interplay between this factors remains largely unexplored. Here, we investigated gene expression changes in the hippocampal dentate gyrus shortly after prolonged seizures induced by kainic acid, focusing on mitochondrial functions. Using comparative proteomics, we identified networks of proteins differentially expressed shortly after seizure induction, including members of the BCL2 family and other mitochondrial proteins. Within these networks, we report for the first time that the atypical BCL2 protein BCL2L13 controls caspase-3 activity and cytochrome C release in neural stem/progenitor cells. Furthermore, we identify BCL2L13 as a novel target of the cooperative action of microRNA-124 and microRNA-137, both upregulated shortly after seizure induction. This cooperative microRNA-mediated fine-tuning of BCL2L13 expression controls casp3 activity, favoring non-apoptotic caspase-3 functions in NSPC exposed to KA and thereby may contribute to the early neurogenic response to epileptic seizures in the dentate gyrus.

December 2014

There are few fields in neuroscience that have witnessed a faster development than the field of adult neurogenesis in the past decade. The discovery of stem cells present in the adult brain that give rise to new neurons has raised a lot of interest as it changed current concepts of brain plasticity and possible strategies for brain repair. While neurogenesis, today, has become a well-acknowledged phenomenon, many open questions remain. In this special issue, we have compiled a selection of articles that address several timely topics related to neurogenesis and discuss some of the unresolved questions concerning the functional relevance of adult neurogenesis, its regulation, and its role in the diseased brain.

June 2014

Experimental evidence has demonstrated that several aspects of adult neural stem cells (NSCs), including their quiescence, proliferation, fate specification and differentiation, are regulated by epigenetic mechanisms. These control the expression of specific sets of genes, often including those encoding for small non-coding RNAs, indicating a complex interplay between various epigenetic factors and cellular functions.Previous studies had indicated that in addition to the neuropathology in Alzheimer's disease (AD), plasticity-related changes are observed in brain areas with ongoing neurogenesis, like the hippocampus and subventricular zone. Given the role of stem cells e.g. in hippocampal functions like cognition, and given their potential for brain repair, we here review the epigenetic mechanisms relevant for NSCs and AD etiology. Understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in the epigenetic regulation of adult NSCs will advance our knowledge on the role of adult neurogenesis in degeneration and possibly regeneration in the AD brain.

May 2014

Dendritic spines are protrusions emerging from the dendrite of a neuron and represent the primary postsynaptic targets of excitatory inputs in the brain. Technological advances have identified these structures as key elements in neuron connectivity and synaptic plasticity. The quantitative analysis of spine morphology using light microscopy remains an essential problem due to technical limitations associated with light's intrinsic refraction limit. Dendritic spines can be readily identified by confocal laser-scanning fluorescence microscopy. However, measuring subtle changes in the shape and size of spines is difficult because spine dimensions other than length are usually smaller than conventional optical resolution fixed by light microscopy's theoretical resolution limit of 200 nm. Several recently developed super resolution techniques have been used to image cellular structures smaller than the 200 nm, including dendritic spines. These techniques are based on classical far-field operations and therefore allow the use of existing sample preparation methods and to image beyond the surface of a specimen. Described here is a working protocol to apply super resolution structured illumination microscopy (SIM) to the imaging of dendritic spines in primary hippocampal neuron cultures. Possible applications of SIM overlap with those of confocal microscopy. However, the two techniques present different applicability. SIM offers higher effective lateral resolution, while confocal microscopy, due to the usage of a physical pinhole, achieves resolution improvement at the expense of removal of out of focus light. In this protocol, primary neurons are cultured on glass coverslips using a standard protocol, transfected with DNA plasmids encoding fluorescent proteins and imaged using SIM. The whole protocol described herein takes approximately 2 weeks, because dendritic spines are imaged after 16-17 days in vitro, when dendritic development is optimal. After completion of the protocol, dendritic spines can be reconstructed in 3D from series of SIM image stacks using specialized software.

January 2014

Several factors, including epileptic seizures, can strongly stimulate ongoing neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus. Although adult-born granule cells generated after seizure activity have different physiological properties from their normal counterparts, they integrate into the existing, mature network of the adult hippocampal dentate gyrus. However, the exact role of the neurogenic response during epilepsy and its possible involvement in epileptogenesis have remained elusive. Here, we discuss recent studies shedding new light on the interplay between epilepsy and neurogenesis, and try to explain discrepancies in this literature by proposing seizure severity-dependent induction of two subsets of newborn cells with different properties. We hypothesise that a low seizure intensity would stimulate neurogenesis to a 'physiological plasticity' level and have few pathological consequences. In contrast, a high initial seizure intensity may induce a specific subset of altered and/or ectopically located new granule cells with different electrophysiological properties that could initiate hyperexcitatory recurrent networks that could, in turn, contribute to chronic epilepsy. This hypothesis may clarify previously contradictory data in the literature, and could thereby aid in our understanding of the role of neurogenesis in epileptogenesis, and open up promising avenues for therapeutic intervention.



April 2014

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a complex neurodegenerative disorder involving dysregulation of many biological pathways at multiple levels. Classical epigenetic mechanisms, including DNA methylation and histone modifications, and regulation by microRNAs (miRNAs), are among the major regulatory elements that control these pathways at the molecular level, with epigenetic modifications regulating gene expression transcriptionally and miRNAs suppressing gene expression posttranscriptionally. Epigenetic mechanisms and miRNAs have recently been shown to closely interact with each other, thereby creating reciprocal regulatory circuits, which appear to be disrupted in neuronal and glial cells affected by AD. Here, we review those miRNAs implicated in AD that are regulated by promoter DNA methylation and/or chromatin modifications and, which frequently direct the expression of constituents of the epigenetic machinery, concluding with the delineation of a complex epigenetic-miRNA regulatory network and its alterations in AD.

September 2013

Doublecortin-like (DCL) is a microtubule-binding protein crucial for neuroblastoma (NB) cell proliferation. We have investigated whether the anti-proliferative effect of DCL knockdown is linked to reduced mitochondrial activity. We found a delay in tumor development after DCL knockdown in vivo in doxycycline-inducible NB tumor xenografts. To understand the mechanisms underlying this tumor growth retardation we performed a series of in vitro experiments in NB cell lines. DCL colocalizes with mitochondria, interacts with the mitochondrial outer membrane protein OMP25/ SYNJ2BP and DCL knockdown results in decreased expression of genes involved in oxidative phosphorylation. Moreover, DCL knockdown decreases cytochrome c oxidase activity and ATP synthesis. We identified the C-terminal Serine/Proline-rich domain and the second microtubule-binding area as crucial DCL domains for the regulation of cytochrome c oxidase activity and ATP synthesis. Furthermore, DCL knockdown causes a significant reduction in the proliferation rate of NB cells under an energetic challenge induced by low glucose availability. Together with our previous studies, our results corroborate DCL as a key player in NB tumor growth in which DCL controls not only mitotic spindle formation and the stabilization of the microtubule cytoskeleton, but also regulates mitochondrial activity and energy availability, which makes DCL a promising molecular target for NB therapy.

November 2013

Early-life stress lastingly affects adult cognition and increases vulnerability to psychopathology, but the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. In this Opinion article, we propose that early nutritional input together with stress hormones and sensory stimuli from the mother during the perinatal period act synergistically to program the adult brain, possibly via epigenetic mechanisms. We hypothesize that stress during gestation or lactation affects the intake of macro- and micronutrients, including dietary methyl donors, and/or impairs the dam's metabolism, thereby altering nutrient composition and intake by the offspring. In turn, this may persistently modulate gene expression via epigenetic programming, thus altering hippocampal structure and cognition. Understanding how the combination of stress, nutrition, and epigenetics shapes the adult brain is essential for effective therapies.

September 2013

The accurate characterization of the molecular mechanisms involved in the action of receptor ligands is important for their appropriate therapeutic use and safety. It is well established that ligands acting at the histamine system currently used in the clinic exert their actions by specifically antagonizing G-protein coupled H1 and H2 receptors. However, most of these ligands, assumed to be neutral antagonists, behave as inverse agonists displaying negative efficacy in experimental systems. This suggests that their therapeutic actions may involve not only receptor blockade, but also the decrease of spontaneous receptor activity. The mechanisms whereby inverse agonists achieve negative efficacy are diverse. Theoretical models predict at least three possible mechanisms, all of which are supported by experimental observations. Depending on the mechanism of action engaged, the inverse agonist could interfere specifically with signaling events triggered by unrelated receptors. This possibility opens up new venues to explain the therapeutic actions of inverse agonists of the histamine receptor and perhaps new therapeutic applications.

June 2013

In the brain, the connection between sensory information triggered by the presence of a stressor and the organism's reaction involves limbic areas such as the hippocampus, amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Consequently, these brain regions are the most sensitive to stress-induced changes in neuronal plasticity. However, the specific effects of stress on neuronal plasticity in these regions largely differ. Despite these regional differences, in many cases the steps leading to brain adaptation to stress involve highly coordinated changes in gene expression affecting cell metabolism, neuronal plasticity and synaptic transmission. In adult life the effects of stress on neuronal plasticity are largely reversible but stress in early life induces persistent changes in neuronal plasticity that increases vulnerability to develop psychopathologies and aging-related cognitive decline, suggesting the involvement of epigenetic mechanisms. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that microRNAs (miRs) are key players in epigenetic regulation. In this forefront review we present a critical look on the literature demonstrating the regulation of neuronal plasticity by miRs and the molecular mechanisms of target specificity in neurons. We propose that further progress in the identification of miR's function beyond single target identification would require a combination of developmental expression studies, bioinformatics and a deeper understanding of large networks of targets involved in epigenetic regulation. This will help to extend our understanding of the role miRs play in the regulation of stress-induced neuronal plasticity.

September 2013

Glucocorticoids (GCs) secreted after stress reduce adult hippocampal neurogenesis, a process that has been implicated in cognitive aspects of psychopathology, amongst others. Yet, the exact role of the GC receptor (GR), a key mediator of GC action, in regulating adult neurogenesis is largely unknown. Here, we show that GR knockdown, selectively in newborn cells of the hippocampal neurogenic niche, accelerates their neuronal differentiation and migration. Strikingly, GR knockdown induced ectopic positioning of a subset of the new granule cells, altered their dendritic complexity and increased their number of mature dendritic spines and mossy fiber boutons. Consistent with the increase in synaptic contacts, cells with GR knockdown exhibit increased basal excitability parallel to impaired contextual freezing during fear conditioning. Together, our data demonstrate a key role for the GR in newborn hippocampal cells in mediating their synaptic connectivity and structural as well as functional integration into mature hippocampal circuits involved in fear memory consolidation.



April 2013

A key question in the field of neurogenesis, stress and depression has been whether a reduction in neurogenesis per se can produce a ‘depressed’ animal. Recently, Snyder et al. convincingly demonstrated that new hippocampal neurons are necessary for an efficient recovery of hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity after stress. They next proposed a feed-forward loop by which stress, via inhibition of neurogenesis, could over time, lead to hypercortisolemia and eventually depressive behavior. Although we applaud their results, we consider it too early to conclude that neurogenesis controls the stress response; nor do they, in our view, support a causal role for neurogenesis in depression.