Christina Chatzi awarded Collins Medical Trust grant to study changes in aging brain

Christina Chatzi, PhD

The Vollum Institute congratulates Christina Chatzi, research assistant professor in the Westbrook lab, who received a grant award from the Collins Medical Trust for her project “Getting the aging brain on track”.

Cognitive aging, demonstrated by impairments in remembering recent events and in learning complex associations, greatly reduces quality of life even in the absence of obvious neurological diseases. Contrary to long-standing belief that age-associated changes result from neuronal degeneration, recent studies indicate that neuronal cell death does not occur at significant levels in the normal aging brain.

Chatzi’s research will focus on synaptic pathways from the lateral entorhinal cortex (LEC) that funnel excitatory input to the dentate gyrus subfield of the hippocampus, the circuit in the brain most closely associated with age-related learning and memory deficits. Recently identified layer II pyramidal cells in the LEC, which synapse onto granule cells and local inhibitory interneurons in the dentate gyrus, play a crucial role in information processing yet they are one of the most vulnerable elements in this circuit. Chatzi and her team will use a combination of viral tracing, chemogenetics, mapping of synaptic connections and behavioral assessment in aging mouse brains to investigate the mechanisms and structural changes that lead to age-related susceptibility of the entorhinal-hippocampal network.

While drug treatments to delay or reverse cognitive decline have not been highly effective to date, other interventions such as physical activity have shown promise. Physical activity remains perhaps the most potent intervention for preventing cognitive decline in normal aging and in neurological disorders. Using aged mice, Chatzi will study how acute and sustained exercise-induced changes in neuronal activity and gene expression reshape synaptic connections in the entorhinal-dentate gyrus circuit, thereby enhancing learning and memory.

The Collins Medical Trust is a local foundation that provides seed funding to faculty and postdoctoral fellows to aid, further, promote and develop research related to the cause, cure, and treatment of human diseases that impact the health of Oregonians.