Neurodegenerative Diseases

Neurodegenerative diseases are progressive diseases of the nervous system associated with the deterioration or loss of selective neurons that perform different functions such as controlling movements, processing sensory information, acquisition and retrieval of memory, and making decisions.  This neurodegeneration is a common issue in many nervous system diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and other neurodegenerative disorders that occur more frequently with age.  These diseases are devastating for afflicted individual and place a great physical and emotional burden on family, caregivers and friends.  Neurodegenerative diseases are amongst the most costly diseases to society and their rising prevalence constitutes a major public health problem.  Although substantial progresses have been made over the past few years, the pathogenesis of these neurodegenerative diseases have not been identified in sufficient detail to suggest corrective interventions other then symptomatic treatments.

At UAB Department of Psychiatry, researchers have developed projects and extramural funding to conduct multidisciplinary clinical and basic research studies aimed at increasing our understanding of the causes and molecular mechanisms leading to neuronal dysfunction and neurodegeneration in order to identify potential targets for therapeutic approaches.

A group of researchers including Drs Patrizia De Sarno, Rita M. Cowell and Mathieu Lesort have developed a multidisciplinary approach that takes advantage of a wide variety of in vitro, cellular and whole animal models.  These models faithfully recapitulate specific characteristics of neurodegenerative disorders and constitute the basis to elucidate the pathogenic mechanisms involved in disease processes.

Dr. De Sarno is examining the immunoregulation and pathophysiological mechanisms that lead to neurological damage in multiple sclerosis.  Dr. Lesort is interested in examining the role of mitochondria in neurodegenerative diseases.  He is examining whether correcting specific mitochondrial abnormalities detected in Parkinson’s disease and Huntingon’s disease could prevent neuronal death and provide beneficial outcomes. Dr. Lesort’s group is examining the mechanisms by which known risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, such as diabetes, intersect with the core neuropathological molecules of the disease and its progression. Dr. Cowell’s laboratory is dedicated to determining the role that fast-spiking interneurons play in neurodegenerative movement disorders such as Huntington’s Disease.