Using model organisms to help study translational concepts in neuroscience

Among the many achievements in the field of neuroscience over the past decades, two require special attention due to the huge impact on our understanding of the fundamental bases of the nervous system. The first consists in defining specific functions under control of the nervous system; the second consists in modeling these functions experimentally with model organisms, such as the fruit fly, nematode, and fish. The power of these genetic systems has revealed many genetic factors and neural pathways involved in the formation and function of the brain. In BioRTC, through a combination of gene expression, optical imaging, and quantitative behavioral approaches, we study motor information processing in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

Using non-model animals to study species specific adaptation of the nervous system

The nervous system of each species is uniquely adapted to better suit species-specific environments and behavior in the natural habitat. For example, animals that live in a dark place have evolved visual systems specialised for dim light conditions in lue of colour vision, which requires brighter light, or animals that rely on hunting prey have evolved a small area in the eye that provides higher spatial resolution vision to better focus on prey animals. Studying such species-specific adaptation helps not just to understand better common frameworks of the nervous system but also how one can tune neural frameworks to generate new functions and behaviors. Studies of species-specific adaptation can help to develop better strategies for controlling pest species or conserving rare species. This research also provides a level of understanding for the human nervous system within a larger context. The rich diversity of wild animals in Nigeria, and in broader Africa, will be a great asset for research at BioRTC.

Using olfaction as a model sensory system to study brain function

Olfaction is a unique sense with a highly-conserved evolutionary origin. Such conservation in the olfactory system makes it an interesting sense to study information processing in the brain. From invertebrate species to primates, studies of olfaction can be used to help draw robust scientific findings across the complexities of different organisms. The capacity to translate olfaction data is much greater given the large degree of circuit conservation. At BioRTC, olfaction studies can be employed to bridge studies on the basic mechanisms of brain function to understanding how circuits become disrupted in states of disease and disorder.  

Neurological disorders​

These are a heterogeneous group of disorders characterised by the dysfunction of the central or peripheral nervous systems. Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are among the most common neurological disorders. Genetic and environmental factors contribute to the promotion of these diseases. Apart from the use of organism models, including Drosophila, to study the molecular and cellular pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease, we are interested in developing human induced pluripotent stem cell models (iPSC) from the African-resident population for studying these disorders. iPSC cells are reprogrammed from somatic cells, such as skin fibroblasts, obtained from patient skin biopsies. The iPSC cells capture the patient population’s genetic diversity, making them excellent research models relevant for human diseases. Using this approach, we can produce diverse brain cells to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms driving the pathogenesis of neurological disorders that are relevant to the African population.