Sabine Spijker receives Vici grant

16 February 2015

Sabine Spijker receives 1.5 M€ for her research on depression. ‘This Vici grant allows me discover what is the limit in information processing that is apparent in ‘the prison of depression’.

A prison for the mind: Limiting neuronal plasticity involving the extracellular matrix
Adapting to new environments or capturing precious moments of our lives into memories, all require plasticity of our brain. What would be left of ourselves without the proper control of our thoughts and specific memories that are dear to us? It is not surprising that one of our greatest fears is to lose all of this. Cognitive impairments, in which plasticity becomes limited, frequently occur, most dramatically in neurodegenerative disease, but also in mental disorders. For instance, when experiencing a depression, a person’s thoughts, feelings and sense of well-being become deeply disturbed. So far, we understand that connections between neurons are able to change, named plasticity, and that this in turn enables storage of information. But how do we bridge the gap between this and understanding impairments in cognitive function as we know it from mental disorders, in all its facets and complexity?

Currently, we know that specific sugar-containing protein structures that enwrap nerve cells in the brain, named the extracellular matrix are able to modulate neuronal plasticity. This is to ensure that our brain can stick onto information over many years, without intermediate change. The counter side of this is that the matrix may also aberrantly limit plasticity under disease conditions.

As Sabine Spijker explained:

“I discovered various exciting examples of this already in the past few years in various psychiatric models. In the model of depression that I use these matrix structures are increased, debilitating proper information exchange, and hence impair cognitive function typical for depression. My aim is to generate new insights into the matrix-mediated mechanisms that govern limitations in plasticity underlying cognitive function. This knowledge will potentially enable translation into early prevention or treatment strategies of mental disorders in which the ECM plays a role. As the matrix may act restrictive in various diseases, like neurodegenerative diseases, I think my research will provide new insight into other disease areas as well.”