Brain research is focus of daylong symposium

December 16, 2015

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Two kinds of cells are found in the brain: neurons and glial cells (or glia). Formerly thought to provide little more than metabolic and structural support for neurons, glia maintain homeostasis and protect the neurons. Glia have gained traction in research with the growing recognition that neuron-neuron communication is not only regulated but also defined by them.

Not surprising then that attendance at a symposium held annually at the University of California, Riverside to focus on glial-neuronal interactions has grown over the years. Early next year, the ninth time the symposium will have been held, nearly 200 neuroscientists who examine glial-neuronal interactions in health and disease will gather at UC Riverside to discuss and present the latest findings in what is now one of the most active pursuits in brain research.

The 9th annual "Glial-neuronal Interactions in Health and Disease" symposium will begin at 9:30 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. It will take place in Room 302, the Highlander Union Building, a short walk from the bell tower on campus. Registration is free for attendees from non-profit organizations as well as members of the media. For others, registration costs $175 per person. The registration fee covers lunch. All attendees are requested to register.

"Glia is the stuff in between neurons," explained Monica Carson, a professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine at UCR, who is organizing the symposium. "Comprising nearly 90 percent of the cells within the central nervous system, they are needed to maintain the neural systems. Glia help guide where neurons can grow and they also edit the neurons. Classic neurologic problems are linked to glia failing to edit appropriately, adequately or correctly. If we want to predict the outcome of traumatic brain injury or if we want to predict susceptibility to or progression for spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia or autism, we have to monitor the glia."

Carson, who is the chair of Biomedical Sciences and the director of the UCR Center for Glial-Neuronal Interactions (CGNI), explained that high resolution in vivo imaging has shown that glia are constantly active in the healthy central nervous system. They play prominent and often causative roles in the pathogenesis of many common neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders including Alzheimer's disease, autism-spectrum disorders, epilepsy, Huntington's disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and schizophrenia.

Where traumatic brain injury -- such as football head injury -- is concerned, data from CGNI researchers suggests that glia may be able to serve as reporters of concussions that are otherwise difficult to detect in standard hospital imaging methods, such as MRIs, because glia are specialized to monitor and modify neuronal function.

"Depending on how we modify glial function, we can alter the progression of brain damage following single or repetitive concussions," Carson said.

The symposium's keynote speech will be given at 10:30 a.m. by Matthew Neil Rasband, who holds the Vivian L. Smith Endowed Chair in Neuroscience at the Baylor College of Medicine. A professor of neuroscience, his research focuses on discovering the functional organization of axons -- the long fibers of neurons that carry outgoing messages -- in health as well as disease or injury.

See the complete schedule for the symposium.

The Glenn Hatton Lecture at 5 p.m. will be given by Edwin W. Rubel, the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Professor of Hearing Science at the University of Washington, Seattle. Rubel's research aims at understanding the development, plasticity, pathology and potential repair of the inner ear and auditory pathways of the brain. The lecture honors the memory and vision of Glenn I. Hatton, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience at UCR who died in 2009.

"Glenn was one of the reasons I came to UCR," said Carson, who joined UCR in 2004. "He was one of the original glial-neuronal interaction researchers. His work defined how the glia regulate neuronal activity and helped launch the field of glial-neuronal interactions. Indeed, his work and leadership were pivotal in the founding of CGNI on our campus."

Founded in 2007, CGNI, the first center in UCR's School of Medicine, facilitates innovative collaborations between neuro- and glial-centric researchers as well as with researchers from outside the field of neuroscience. The goal is to understand how the central nervous system functions at the molecular level and to identify both risk factors for brain disease and therapeutic targets of intervention for neurodevelopmental, neurodegenerative and neuro-autoimmune disease.

The 9th annual "Glial-neuronal Interactions in Health and Disease" symposium is supported by UCR's School of Medicine, the Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences, the Graduate Program in Neurosciences, the Glenn Hatton Memorial Fund, and several sponsors.
The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.

University of California - Riverside

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