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Reporting from the BNA23 Neuroscience Conference

Author: Laura Pozzi Ph.D., Scientific Content Manager, Atlas Antibodies AB, Sweden

The BNA International Festival of Neuroscience is a young, unique, dynamic, and inclusive meeting, unlike any other. It is the largest UK organization connecting, representing, and promoting neuroscience and neuroscientists across the globe. The location chosen for this year's conference was Brighton, UK, the vibrant seaside city known for its iconic pier, stunning beaches, and bustling cultural scene.

Under cloudy weather changing from windy to light rain and a bit of sun, we have discovered a wide-ranging scientific program including more than 200 speakers, 9 plenary sessions, posters, workshops, symposia, a silent theatre, rapid-fire poster talks, and more exciting activities. 


Here are 4 summaries of the amazing lectures we attended this year:


1. The Neural Code for Reading

Title: Symbols and Languages: a hypothesis about the singularity of the human brain.
Speaker: Prof. Stanislas Dehaene, INSERM, France

A fascinating plenary talk by Prof. Stanislas Dehaene, a cognitive neuroscientist, discussed how the brain encodes written language.

Natural language is often seen as the single factor that explains the cognitive singularity of the human species. Instead, Prof. Dehaene hypothesizes that human singularity is manifested much more broadly, in the ability to acquire a great variety of symbolic languages, akin to computer languages, to encode and compress structures in various domains (mathematics, music, shape…).

These languages rely on cortical circuits parallel to, but distinct from classical language areas. He presented several tasks of elementary shape or sequence perception in which minimum description length in the proposed languages captures human behavior and brain activity. Functional MRI localizes the relevant parallel networks, including activations close to but distinct from the language-related Broca’s area, while magneto-encephalography tracks the postulated mental structures in real time. 

2. Can we Prevent Parkinson's Disease?

Title: What can animal models of synucleinopathies teach us?
Speaker: Prof. Patrik Brundin, Van Andel Research Institute, Michigan, US

A lecture by Prof. Patrik Brundin, neuroscientist, leading Parkinson's disease researcher, and director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Science at Van Andel Research Institute, Michigan.

During the past decades, an increased understanding of pathological features, and genetic and environmental factors underlying Parkinson's disease has prompted the development of a vast and diversified repertoire of animal models. Today we have unprecedented opportunities to recreate and study virtually all critical aspects of Parkinson's disease pathogenesis in laboratory animals to restore lost motor functions, whilst not ever being curative.

Abnormal forms of the protein α-synuclein trigger selective and progressive neuronal death. Synucleinopathies such as Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, and Multiple System Atrophy show synuclein-related neuroinflammation and share clinical, neurochemical, and morphological features.

In his captivating lecture, Prof. Patrik Brundin discussed the role of urinary tract infections in triggering synucleinopathies via the innate immune response. His research links bacterial infections with synucleinopathy and shows that a host response to environmental triggers can result in ɑSyn pathology and accumulation in the brain.



3. Neuropsychiatric Disorders, Neuronal Development, and Stem Cells.

Title: Stem Cells, neuronal development, and the cellular basis of neuropsychiatric diseases
Speaker: Meng Li, Cardiff University, Wales, UK. 

Neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism are a group of mental disorders that affect the development of the nervous system and present an immense personal and societal burden. The primary research topic discussed by Prof. Meng Li at the BNA2023 conference was how to uncover the molecular mechanisms underlying neuronal subtype specification of pluripotent stem cells and during mammalian development.

In-vitro generation of human neurons from pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) carrying disease-risk genes and genomic loci provides unprecedented opportunities to study the effects of associated disease mutations on neural development and neuronal function. In her talk, Prof. Meng Li discussed her studies on neural circuits affected by neurodevelopmental disorders and her efforts in generating disease-relevant neuronal subtypes from human PSCs.

4. Axon Regeneration: From Molecular Mechanisms to Therapeutic Strategies

Title: Mechanisms of Axon Growth and Regeneration
Speaker: Frank Bradke, DZNE, Germany

Prof. Bradke is a neurobiologist working on the physiological regeneration of nerve cells in the central nervous system. In 2016, he was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for his "pioneering research in the field of regenerative neurobiology." He is currently a Group Leader at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. He is a member of the Editorial Board for Current Biology.

In his plenary talk at BNA2023, he discussed the mechanisms of axon growth and regeneration, which is the regrowth of damaged nerve fibers in the central nervous system, focusing on the cytoskeleton as a driving force for initial neuronal polarization and axon growth, to better understand how cytoskeletal changes help to reactivate the growth program of injured CNS axons to elicit axon regeneration after a spinal cord injury. 

Prof. Bradke also described how we can employ developmental mechanisms to induce axon regeneration in the adult after a spinal cord injury.