Neuroplasticity and Brain Health

Research group

Short description

The research group focuses on the relationship between structural and functional changes in the brain, especially in the context of pathological conditions, such as stroke, CNS injury, the side effects of cancer treatments as well as chronic stress. We place particular emphasis on understanding how these changes can lead to cognitive exhaustion or brain fatigue. Further to these human studies, we study mechanisms of neuronal plasticity using in vitro and in vivo model systems. Using register-based epidemiological research, we also explore how brain diseases and cognitive dysfunctions are related to modifiable risk factors across the lifespan which may contribute to unhealthy aging.

Functional Brain Changes associated with Fatigue. By studying changes in brain activation and functional connectivity using functional brain imaging, we assess how pathological disruptions influence the overall functioning of the brain. Our imaging setup is based on functional near-infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS), a a non-invasive, safe, quiet and portable functional imaging system. Brain correlates of cognition have been studied using fMRI, but the MR scanner environment is limiting with regard to the test situation and to patients with psychological difficulties, such as anxiety, claustrophobia or restlessness. fNIRS has been developed as an alternative, optical imaging technique for assessment of brain activation during neuropsychological testing. The near-infrared light used in fNIRS is specifically adjusted to detect oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin, which serve as measures for neuronal activity in a given brain location. Compared to fMRI, fNIRS is more robust against motion artifacts and can for example be used sitting at a table while performing standard cognitive tests (see Figure).

Systemic signals as indicators and modulators of cognitive dysfunction. Higher cognitive functions are dependent on brain regions, which are capable of high levels of structural plasticity to enable continuous adaptability of behavior and thought. Synaptic plasticity is controlled by extracellular circulating molecules and among those are peptide factors, such as cytokines, trophic factors, myokines and metabolic signals, that are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier from the periphery. This has led to the discovery of specific plasma proteomic signatures of brain physiological states. Since cognitive exhaustion after cancer therapies appears to be a robust long-term phenomenon with possible connections to the peripheral physiological state, including the immune status, we plan to analyze the specific plasma profile signature of patients that have undergone our cognitive test/functional imaging.

Modifiable risk factors, resilience, and healthy aging. We analyze how factors such as diet, exercise, mental stimulation, and stress, which can be modified by an individual, influence brain health and resilience to diseases across the lifespan. Our research delves into how diseases and disorders can exacerbate the aging process and increase the risk of associated age-related cognitive declines or other health complications. With our findings, we aim to develop strategies and recommendations for individuals to counteract or delay the onset of unhealthy aging processes.

Brain plasticity mechanisms refer to the brain's capacity to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This adaptability can occur at multiple levels, from cellular changes to large-scale cortical remapping. Neuroplasticity is the fundamental mechanism that underlies learning, memory, recovery from brain damage, and adaptation to changing environments. Using in vitro and in vivo model systems, we analyze how brain disorders, or injuries alter the brain's structural components through changes in neuronal density, overall brain volume, cellular maturation and connectivity, neuronal degeneration and neurogenesis.

Group members:

Hans-Georg Kuhn, Principal Investigator, professor

Zahra Farajollahi
Laura Jess, doctoral student
Reza Motalleb, PhD
Jenny Nyberg, PhD, docent
Simon Skau, PhD, postdoctor

Hans-Georg Kuhn
Professor Hans-Georg Kuhn