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Mechanisms of excitability in the central and peripheral nervous systems
  CBN (Computational Biology and Neurocomputing) seminars

Friday 27 April 2012
from 10:00 to 11:00
at RB35
Speaker : Jenny Tigerholm (CB/CSC/KTH)
Abstract : The work in this thesis concerns mechanisms of excitability of neurons. Specifically, it deals with how neurons respond to input, and how their response is controlled by ion channels and other active components of the neuron. I have studied excitability in two systems of the nervous system, the hippocampus which is responsible for memory and spatial navigation, and the peripheral C–fibre which is responsible for sensing and conducting sensory information to the spinal cord. Within the work, I have studied the role of excitability mechanisms in normal function and in pathological conditions. For hippocampus the normal function includes changes in excitability linked to learning and memory. However, it also is intimately linked to pathological increases in excitability observed in epilepsy. In C–fibres, excitability controls sensitivity to responses to stimuli. When this response becomes enhanced, this can lead to pain. I have used computational modelling as a tool for studying hyperexcitability in neurons in the central nervous system in order to address mechanisms of epileptogenesis. Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a subject has repeated seizures (convulsions) over time. Seizures are characterized by increased and highly synchronized neural activity. Therefore, mechanisms that regulate synchronized neural activity are crucial for the understanding of epileptogenesis. Such mechanisms must differentiate between synchronized and semi synchronized synaptic input. The candidate I propose for such a mechanism is the fast outward current generated by the A-type potassium channel (KA). Additionally, I have studied the propagation of action potentials in peripheral axons, denoted C–fibres. These C–fibres mediate information about harmful peripheral stimuli from limbs and organs to the central nervous system and are thereby linked to pathological pain. If a C–fibre is activated repeatedly, the excitability is altered and the mechanisms for this alteration are unknown. By computational modelling, I have proposed mechanisms which can explain this alteration in excitability. In summary, in my work I have studied roles of particular ion channels in excitability related to functions in the nervous system. Using computational modelling, I have been able to relate specific properties of ion channels to functions of the nervous system such as sensing and learning, and in particular studied the implications of mechanisms of excitability changes in diseases.

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