Neurobiology of Disease


  Themes 2010


The neurobiology of disease refers to fundamental genetic, molecular, cellular, systems, and behavioral abnormalities that contribute to the manifestations of disease. From a practical perspective, disease-oriented research is not necessarily the same thing as the currently popular term, translational research. Any research that is directed at a specific disease or disease manifestation is often called "translational", but NIH has a more narrow definition i.e. any research that involves human subjects or that has immediate application to clinical therapies (e.g. clinical trials). Unfortunately, many areas of neurological and psychiatric disease still lack the fundamental insights or technology required for therapeutic application. Likewise, there are many examples where "undirected" basic research has led to clinical breakthroughs. Thus in neuroscience there is room (and great need) for both basic research as well as translational research. The introductory session overviews this spectrum, beginning with a discussion of neurobiological mechanisms that underlie neuropsychiatric disease. A clinical session will introduce the practical aspects of how neurological diagnoses are made.

This course is a "sampler" so participants should not expect to walk away with a comprehensive understanding on any one disease or disease mechanism, but rather we hope to impart an appreciation of the impact of disease on patients, and an understanding of the potential links between basic science and disease mechanisms.


Neurodegeneration (Alzheimer's, Parkinson's Disease and Aging)

This theme will examine topical issues in neurodegenerative disease, using and Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease as the clinical focal points this year. We will interview patients with Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease following sessions that overview the clinical and potential mechanism of these diseases. We will also discuss therapeutic strategies for neurodegenerative diseases using Alzheimer's disease as an example, and the developing technology of gene therapy using cells and viruses. We will also discuss the relationship of aging to neurodegenerative disease including a session presented by Andrew Dillin from Salk Institute.


Bypassing Repair - Neural Prostheses

Understanding neural injury and facilitating repair of damaged or degenerating nervous system poses a number of daunting scientific challenges, even though we have made great progress in understanding neural plasticity and repair mechanisms. This theme will examine an alternative approach, in which damaged tissue is bypassed with neural prostheses. Mark Humayan of the University of Southern California will discuss his work on retinal implants, now in use in patients. Eberhard Fetz of the University of Washington will discuss experimental strategies to use computer-brain interfaces to drive motor activity from individual neurons in the cortex, effectively bypassing the spinal cord.


Maladaptive Plasticity (Pain)

Although pain is an important protective mechanism, chronic pain represents a maladaptive response to prior or ongoing tissue injury. This theme will provide an overview of chronic pain as seen in the clinic, and Allan Basbaum from the University of California San Francisco will survey the molecular mechanisms of chronic pain.


Neuronal-Glial Interactions (Multiple Sclerosis)

This theme will examine the topic of neuronal-glial interactions, which are manifest in a number of neurological diseases. Our clinical focus for this theme will be multiple sclerosis (MS). Sessions on MS will include a clinical overview of the disease and it treatment, and we will interview a patient with MS. During the second week of this theme, students will attend the 2010 Jungers Center symposium on Neuronal-Glial Interactions (see, which features outside 4 experts discussing recent research on this topic. The theme will conclude with a debriefing of the issues raised by the symposium.


Clinical Rounds

During this week students will be matched for a 1/2 day with a clinician on the inpatient wards, the neuroscience intensive care unit or one of the subspecialty neurology clinics. This opportunity will allow students to see how neurological health care is delivered and some of the issues that face patients and clinicians on day-to-day basis. In final session of this theme, we will share the experiences of the week.