Egil and Pauline Braathen and Fred Kavli Centre for Cortical Microcircuits (BKC)
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is one of the biggest health challenges to society, but for the last 15 years no new drug has seen the light of day in a clinical study.
Disorientation and memory loss are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. We know very little about what causes the disease, nor of the mechanisms behind its rapid progression and destruction of brain tissue.
Knowledge from foundational research
Today, we know where in the brain these higher mental functions are generated. Our ability to orient ourselves in space and in time as well as our ability to remember from our experiences, all arise from three brain areas that are tightly interconnected.
The area called hippocampus is the brain’s memory hub. The neighbouring brain structure entorhinal cortex is functionally divided between spatial awareness and navigation abilities (in the medial part), and temporal awareness and ability to organize our experiences in chronological sequences (in the lateral part).
It is not surprising that the entorhinal cortex, our brain’s hub for space and time, is the very first area where Alzheimer’s disease causes massive cell death. The loss of brain cells in this area is found as early as a decade before clinical symptoms of the disease start to manifest.
Alzheimer’s works by disrupting communication between the neurons, causing cells in the brain to lose their function and eventually die. The result of this silent death is a decline in cognitive abilities, like disorientation, gradual loss of memory and even personality changes.
Only by understanding how these brain regions work before they are broken, will we be in a position to find the cause of the disease, and further to develop diagnostic tools and treatments.
The Egil and Pauline Braathen and Fred Kavli Centre for Cortical Microcircuits
The Braathen-Kavli Centre is a basic research centre studying neural mechanisms affected by Alzheimers disease (AD). The Centre conducts research on the neural codes and mechanisms underlying cognitive functions, in particular memory; the ability to organize experiences in time; and to find one’s way.
The Centre’s aim is to understand how brain functions that are the first to be affected by Alzheimer disease work in the normal brain, before the onset of neurodegeneration. We believe that these foundational studies will help us understand what triggers the onset of deterioration and cell death in the entorhinal cortex - insights that will be essential for developing a cure for this disease.
The Centre will use its research on cortical microcircuits to investigate how physiological processes might set the stage for AD. During the year of 2018, researchers at the Centre discovered a neural code that expresses time in the lateral entorhinal cortex – a code that may be among the very first higher brain functions that are impaired by Alzheimers disease.
The activity at the Centre may form a fundament for recruitment of internationally renowned researchers working with human patients on mechanisms of cortical dysfunction discovered through the basic-research programme at the Centre.