Locus coeruleus catecholamines link neuroticism and vulnerability to tau pathology in aging

More than 6 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s disease in 2022. The prevalence of this neurodegenerative disease has prompted scientists to study the factors that may increase someone’s risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Higher neuroticism is a well-known dementia risk factor, which is associated with disordered stress responses. The locus coeruleus, a small catecholamine-producing nucleus in the brainstem, is activated during stressful experiences. The locus coeruleus is a centerpiece of developing models of the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease as it is the first brain region to develop abnormal tau protein, a hallmark feature of the disease. Chronic activation of stress pathways involving the locus coeruleus and amygdala may promote tau spread, even in cognitively normal older adults. This leads to the question of whether high-neuroticism individuals show non-optimal affective function, altered locus coeruleus neurotransmitter function, and greater tau accumulation.  Researchers in the Neurochemistry and Cognition Lab, led by Dr. Anne Berry set out to answer this question.LC blog post figurePhD candidate Jourdan Parent examined relationships among personality traits, locus coeruleus catecholamine neurotransmitter function, and tau burden using positron emission tomography imaging in cognitively normal older adults. She found that lower locus coeruleus catecholamine function was associated with higher neuroticism, more depressive symptoms, and higher tau burden in the amygdala, a brain region implicated in stress and emotional responses. Exploratory analyses revealed similar associations with low trait conscientiousness, a personality trait that is also considered a risk factor for dementia. Path analyses revealed that high neuroticism and low conscientiousness were linked to greater amygdala tau burden through their mutual association with low locus coeruleus catecholamine function. Together, these findings reveal locus coeruleus catecholamine function is a promising marker of affective health and pathology burden in aging, and that this may be a candidate neurobiological mechanism for the effect of personality on increased vulnerability to dementia.

Locus coeruleus catecholamines link neuroticism and vulnerability to tau pathology in aging. Jourdan H.Parent, Claire J.Ciampa, Theresa M. Harrison, Jenna N. Adams, Kailin Zhuang, Matthew J.Betts, Anne Maass, Joseph R. Winer, William J. Jagust, Anne S. BerryNeuroImage, 30 September 2022, 119658.


Division of Science Confers Degrees at 2022 Brandeis Commencement

Jane Kondev and students 2022 commencement

Jané Kondev, Professor of Physics, and students at the 2022 Brandeis commencement

Brandeis University held its 71st commencement on May 22nd. The 16 departments and programs that make up the Division of Science granted degrees at the bachelor’s, master’s and PhD levels.  There were 556 degrees granted to the undergraduates of the Division of Science. This was 41% of the total number of Brandeis undergraduate degrees conferred at the commencement.

Additionally, 47 PhD degrees from the Biochemistry and Biophysics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics, Molecular and Cell Biology, Neuroscience, Physics and Psychology program were awarded. These graduate programs as well as Computational Linguistics, Biotechnology, and Genetic Counseling granted 95 Master’s degrees.

Congratulations to all!








SciFest XI to be held on Thursday, 8/11/22

Save the Date for SciFest!

SciFest, the Division of Science’s annual celebration of undergraduate research, is a poster session featuring work done by undergraduates in Brandeis laboratories each summer. This is a capstone event for the undergraduate researchers where they can present the results of their research to peers, grad students, and faculty.

Join us for the SciFest XI which will be held on Thursday, August 11, 2022 in the Shapiro Science Center.

Christine Grienberger Receives 2022 Smith Family Award

Grienberger Smith Family AwardChristine Grienberger, Assistant Professor of Biology, has received the 2022 Smith Family Awards Program for Excellence in Biomedical Research. This award is given to new faculty working in the field of biomedical research.

The following is a summary of Professor Grienberger’s research:

The brain has an extraordinary capacity to learn and to use past experiences to guide future behavior. When individuals learn, they create connections among features, e.g., the location of a restaurant and the food quality, to predict a future outcome. The hippocampal formation, a network of synaptically connected areas in the mammalian brain, is crucial for rapidly forming these associations and relaying them to the rest of the brain to drive learning. Our goal is to understand how the output region of the hippocampal formation, the subiculum, promotes this function. To this end, we will combine for the first time subicular whole-cell recordings, optogenetic perturbation of neural activity, and a spatial learning task. Our findings will provide novel insights into how basic cellular properties endow neurons in the currently poorly understood subiculum with the ability to affect learning. This work will also provide a starting point for investigating functional disruptions in neuropsychiatric disorders, in which the patients’ ability to learn is impaired, e.g., Alzheimer’s disease.



Virtual Conference: Climate & Math to be held 5/26/22

As part of the Brandeis’ Year of Climate ActionThomas Fai, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Jonathan Touboul, Associate Professor or Mathematics (with Denis Patterson from Princeton University) have organized a Climate and Math Conference for Thursday, May 26th (10:00 AM to 5:00 PM). This will be a virtual one-day conference offered as part of the Brandeis Mathematical Biology Seminar.

This conference will bring together leading researchers in mathematical modeling related to climate change. It will cover techniques from mathematical modeling, data analysis and climate policy, and topics including impact of climate change on vegetation, animal populations, water/ice, carbon, and human health.

This virtual conference is part of the Brandeis Year of Climate Action program that will be occurring throughout 2022 and 2023. The Office of Sustainability is responsible for this program.


Blanchette and Scalera et al., discover new insights into an intercellular communication method in neurons

Fruit fly neuron (magenta) with extracellular vesicle cargoes (green). Cargoes are packaged inside the neuron and, then released outside of the neuron in extracellular vesicles.

Research scientist Cassie Blanchette and Neuroscience Ph.D. student Amy Scalera, working in the Rodal lab, discovered a new mechanism of regulation of extracellular vesicles (EVs). EVs are small, membrane-bound compartments that can transfer cargoes such as DNA and proteins between cells for communication. EVs are important for normal cell-cell signaling, but they are also hijacked in neurodegenerative disease to spread toxic disease proteins to other cells. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how and where EVs are formed. Blanchette and Scalera discovered a novel method of regulation of EVs specifically at the synapses (the region of the neuron that contacts adjacent cells), using the fruit fly nervous system as an experimental model.

EVs are derived from endosomes, a network of intracellular sorting compartments that cells use to separate cargoes into different ‘packages’ with distinct inter and intracellular destinations. Blanchette and Scalera found a surprising function for the proteins that regulate endocytosis, a process in which the cell membrane buds inward, thus forming a compartment to bring cargoes to endosomes. The authors found that mutants lacking endocytic proteins lose the local pool of EV cargoes that are available for release from synapses, and instead send these cargoes for disposal elsewhere in the neuron. They hypothesized that the normal function of endocytosis  is akin to a plane circling in a holding pattern at an airport – while it waits for its time to land, it is better for the passengers to circle (between the cell membrane and endosomes), nearby their destination (release in EVs), rather than being sent to an entirely different city (a different region of the neuron). They also found that disrupting this holding pattern had consequences for the physiological functions of EV cargoes; in endocytic mutants, loss of Synaptotagmin-4, an EV cargo important for neuronal adaptability, was associated with failure of the neuron to grow in response to firing. Endocytic mutants also caused synaptic depletion of the Alzheimer’s disease associated EV cargo Amyloid Precursor Protein (APP), thus suppressing its toxicity and increasing the survival of APP-expressing flies. These discoveries raise the possibility that proteins regulating EV traffic may be targets for neurodegenerative disease therapies.

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