Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen
Recent publications
Today Gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCA) are indispensable in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) for diagnosing various diseases. However, GBCAs are expensive and may accumulate in patients with potential side effects, thus dose-reduction is recommended. Still, it is unclear to which extent the GBCA dose can be reduced while preserving the diagnostic value – especially in pathological regions. To address this issue, we collected brain MRI scans at numerous non-standard GBCA dosages and developed a conditional GAN model for synthesizing corresponding images at fractional dose levels. Along with the adversarial loss, we advocate a novel content loss function based on the Wasserstein distance of locally paired patch statistics for the faithful preservation of noise. Our numerical experiments show that conditional GANs are suitable for generating images at different GBCA dose levels and can be used to augment datasets for virtual contrast models. Moreover, our model can be transferred to openly available datasets such as BraTS, where non-standard GBCA dosage images do not exist.
Neural computation is often traced in terms of either rate- or phase-codes. However, most circuit operations will simultaneously affect information across both coding schemes. It remains unclear how phase and rate coded information is transmitted, in the face of continuous modification at consecutive processing stages. Here, we study this question in the entorhinal cortex (EC)- dentate gyrus (DG)- CA3 system using three distinct computational models. We demonstrate that DG feedback inhibition leverages EC phase information to improve rate-coding, a computation we term phase-to-rate recoding. Our results suggest that it i) supports the conservation of phase information within sparse rate-codes and ii) enhances the efficiency of plasticity in downstream CA3 via increased synchrony. Given the ubiquity of both phase-coding and feedback circuits, our results raise the question whether phase-to-rate recoding is a recurring computational motif, which supports the generation of sparse, synchronous population-rate-codes in areas beyond the DG.
Shared resource laboratories/core facilities (SRLs) are centralized platforms that house and provide access to complex and expensive research equipment. Due to the highly complex nature of the instrumentation they support, SRLs have special environmental requirements for their laboratory space. Here, we describe the planning and establishment of a large light microscopy SRL, with a special focus on room layout, custom‐designed air conditioning and vibration, which can also be adapted to proteomics, genomics, and flow or mass cytometry SRLs.
Background With the emergence of microglia-modulating therapies there is an urgent need for reliable biomarkers to evaluate microglial activation states. Methods Using mouse models and human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived microglia (hiMGL), genetically modified to yield the most opposite homeostatic ( TREM2- knockout) and disease-associated ( GRN -knockout) states, we identified microglia activity-dependent markers. Non-targeted mass spectrometry was used to identify proteomic changes in microglia and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of Grn - and Trem2 -knockout mice. Additionally, we analyzed the proteome of GRN - and TREM2 -knockout hiMGL and their conditioned media. Candidate marker proteins were tested in two independent patient cohorts, the ALLFTD cohort ( GRN mutation carriers versus non-carriers), as well as the proteomic data set available from the EMIF-AD MBD study. Results We identified proteomic changes between the opposite activation states in mouse microglia and CSF, as well as in hiMGL cell lysates and conditioned media. For further verification, we analyzed the CSF proteome of heterozygous GRN mutation carriers suffering from frontotemporal dementia (FTD). We identified a panel of six proteins (FABP3, MDH1, GDI1, CAPG, CD44, GPNMB) as potential indicators for microglial activation. Moreover, we confirmed three of these proteins (FABP3, GDI1, MDH1) to be significantly elevated in the CSF of Alzheimer’s (AD) patients. Remarkably, each of these markers differentiated amyloid-positive cases with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) from amyloid-negative individuals. Conclusions The identified candidate proteins reflect microglia activity and may be relevant for monitoring the microglial response in clinical practice and clinical trials modulating microglial activity and amyloid deposition. Moreover, the finding that three of these markers differentiate amyloid-positive from amyloid-negative MCI cases in the AD cohort suggests that these proteins associate with a very early immune response to seeded amyloid. This is consistent with our previous findings in the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer’s Disease Network (DIAN) cohort, where soluble TREM2 increases as early as 21 years before symptom onset. Moreover, in mouse models for amyloidogenesis, seeding of amyloid is limited by physiologically active microglia further supporting their early protective role. The biological functions of some of our main candidates (FABP3, CD44, GPNMB) also further emphasize that lipid dysmetabolism may be a common feature of neurodegenerative disorders.
Headache is one of the most common neurological manifestations of COVID-19, but it is unclear whether chronic headache as a symptom of Post-COVID-19 is associated with ongoing CNS damage. We compared cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels of markers of CNS damage and inflammation in Post-COVID-19 patients with persistent headache to hospitalized acute COVID-19 patients with neurological symptoms and to non-COVID-19 disease-controls. CSF levels of neurofilament light chain, Ubiquitin carboxyl-terminal hydrolase L1 and Tau were similar in patients with persistent headache in post-COVID-19 compared to acute COVID-19 patients and all control groups. Levels of glial fibrillary astrocytic protein were lower in patients with persistent headache in post-COVID-19 compared to some control groups of patients with neurological disease. Therefore, our pilot study of CSF markers indicates that persistent post-COVID-19 headache is not a sign of underlying neuronal damage or glial activation.
COVID-19 is associated with various neurological symptoms. Serum neurofilament light chain (sNfL) is a robust marker for neuroaxonal injury. Recent studies have shown that elevated levels of sNfL are associated with unfavorable outcome in COVID-19 patients. However, neuroaxonal injury is rare in COVID-19, and renal dysfunction and hypoxia, both of which are known in severe COVID-19, can also increase sNfL levels. Thus, the meaning and mechanisms of sNfL elevation in COVID-19 patients remain unclear. We evaluated sNfL levels in 48 patients with COVID-19 (mean age = 63 years) and correlated them to clinical outcome, the form of oxygen therapy, and creatinine. Levels of sNfL were age adjusted and compared with normal values and z-scores. COVID-19 patients treated with nasal cannula had normal sNfL levels (mean sNfL = 19.6 pg/ml) as well as patients with high-flow treatment (mean sNfL = 40.8 pg/ml). Serum NfL levels were statistically significantly higher in COVID-19 patients treated with mechanical ventilation on intensive care unit (ICU) (mean sNfL = 195.7 pg/ml, p < 0.01). There was a strong correlation between sNfL elevation and unfavorable outcome in COVID-19 patients (p < 0.01). However, serum creatinine levels correlated directly and similarly with sNfL elevation and with unfavorable outcome in COVID-19 patients (p < 0.01). Additionally, multivariate analysis for serum creatinine and sNfL showed that both variables are jointly associated with clinical outcomes. Our results identify renal dysfunction as an important possible confounder for sNfL elevation in COVID-19. Thus, serum creatinine and renal dysfunction should be strongly considered in studies evaluating sNfL as a biomarker in COVID-19.
INTRODUCTION We investigated the effectiveness of a multidomain intervention to preserve cognitive function in older adults at risk for dementia in Germany in a cluster‐randomized trial. METHODS Individuals with a Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging, and Dementia (CAIDE) risk score ≥ 9 aged 60 to 77 years were recruited. After randomization of their general practitioner (GP), patients received a multidomain intervention (including optimization of nutrition and medication, and physical, social, and cognitive activity) or general health advice and GP treatment as usual over 24 months. Primary outcome was global cognitive performance (composite z score, based on domain‐specific neuropsychological tests). RESULTS Of 1030 participants at baseline, n = 819 completed the 24‐month follow‐up assessment. No differences regarding global cognitive performance (average marginal effect = 0.010, 95% confidence interval: –0.113, 0.133) were found between groups at follow‐up. Perceived restrictions in intervention conduct by the COVID‐19 pandemic did not impact intervention effectiveness. DISCUSSION The intervention did not improve global cognitive performance. HIGHLIGHTS Overall, no intervention effects on global cognitive performance were detected. The multidomain intervention improved health‐related quality of life in the total sample. In women, the multidomain intervention reduced depressive symptoms. The intervention was completed during the COVID‐19 pandemic.
Background To provide an overview of the available evidence on the implementation of direct and capacity‐building interventions to promote and maintain the functional mobility of nursing home residents. Methods We conducted a scoping review following the methodological guidance for the conduct of scoping reviews as described by the Joanna Briggs Institute. We searched for studies in MEDLINE (via PubMed) and CINAHL (via EBSCO). We conducted a qualitative content analysis of the included studies with deductive categories based on the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research (CFIR). Results Ultimately, we included 8 studies on direct interventions, 6 studies on capacity‐building interventions, and 2 studies on both types of interventions in our review. Seven studies provided evidence on implementation strategies comprising discrete as well as multifaceted, multilevel strategies. Most of the studies did not systematically evaluate the strategies but remained at a descriptive level. All 16 studies provided evidence of influencing factors. We identified 32 of the 37 influencing factors of the CFIR. The five most frequent influencing factors were available resources (n = 14), access to knowledge and information (n = 12), patient needs and resources (n = 10), knowledge and beliefs about the intervention (n = 10) and compatibility (n = 9). Conclusions The available evidence on the implementation of functional mobility interventions in nursing homes is rather limited. This emphasizes the need for further research. Regarding implementation strategies, the systematic evaluation and further development of the reported promising approaches might be a starting point. Keywords Long‐term care, Functional mobility, Implementation, Implementation strategies, Barriers, Facilitators
Interleukin-12 (IL-12) is a potent driver of type 1 immunity. Paradoxically, in autoimmune conditions, including of the CNS, IL-12 reduces inflammation. The underlying mechanism behind these opposing properties and the involved cellular players remain elusive. Here we map IL-12 receptor (IL-12R) expression to NK and T cells as well as neurons and oligodendrocytes. Conditionally ablating the IL-12R across these cell types in adult mice and assessing their susceptibility to experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis revealed that the neuroprotective role of IL-12 is mediated by neuroectoderm-derived cells, specifically neurons, and not immune cells. In human brain tissue from donors with multiple sclerosis, we observe an IL-12R distribution comparable to mice, suggesting similar mechanisms in mice and humans. Combining flow cytometry, bulk and single-nucleus RNA sequencing, we reveal an IL-12-induced neuroprotective tissue adaption preventing early neurodegeneration and sustaining trophic factor release during neuroinflammation, thereby maintaining CNS integrity in mice.
Eukaryotic gene regulation and pre-mRNA transcription depend on the carboxy-terminal domain (CTD) of RNA polymerase (Pol) II. Due to its highly repetitive, intrinsically disordered sequence, the CTD enables clustering and phase separation of Pol II. The molecular interactions that drive CTD phase separation and Pol II clustering are unclear. Here, we show that multivalent interactions involving tyrosine impart temperature- and concentration-dependent self-coacervation of the CTD. NMR spectroscopy, molecular ensemble calculations and all-atom molecular dynamics simulations demonstrate the presence of diverse tyrosine-engaging interactions, including tyrosine-proline contacts, in condensed states of human CTD and other low-complexity proteins. We further show that the network of multivalent interactions involving tyrosine is responsible for the co-recruitment of the human Mediator complex and CTD during phase separation. Our work advances the understanding of the driving forces of CTD phase separation and thus provides the basis to better understand CTD-mediated Pol II clustering in eukaryotic gene transcription.
To investigate the prevalence of coincident anticoagulation in patients with cognitive disorders and possible or probable cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA) as well as the relationship between the presence of oral anticoagulation and CAA-specific lesion load. Patients with subjective cognitive decline (SCD), amnestic and non-amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI/naMCI), Alzheimer’s disease (AD), mixed dementia (MD) and vascular dementia (VD) who presented to our outpatient dementia clinic between February 2016 and October 2020 were included in this retrospective analysis. Patients underwent cranial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI data sets were analyzed regarding the presence of CAA-related MRI biomarkers to determine CAA prevalence. Presence of anticoagulant therapy was determined by chart review. Within the study period, 458 patients (209 male, 249 female, mean age 73.2 ± 9.9 years) with SCD (n = 44), naMCI (n = 40), aMCI (n = 182), AD (n = 120), MD (n = 68) and VD (n = 4) were analyzed. A total of 109 patients (23.8%) were diagnosed with possible or probable CAA. CAA prevalence was highest in aMCI (39.4%) and MD (28.4%). Of patients with possible or probable CAA, 30.3% were under platelet aggregation inhibition, 12.8% were treated with novel oral anticoagulants and 3.7% received phenprocoumon treatment. Regarding the whole study cohort, patients under oral anticoagulation showed more cerebral microbleeds (p = 0.047). There was no relationship between oral anticoagulation therapy and the frequency of cortical superficial siderosis (p = 0.634). CAA is a frequent phenomenon in older patients with cognitive disorders. Almost half of CAA patients receive anticoagulant therapy. Oral anticoagulation is associated with a higher number of cortical and subcortical microbleeds.
INTRODUCTION Studies suggest distinct differences in the development, presentation, progression, and response to treatment of Alzheimer's disease (AD) between females and males. We investigated sex differences in cognition, neuroimaging, and fluid biomarkers in dominantly inherited AD (DIAD). METHODS Three hundred twenty‐five mutation carriers (55% female) and one hundred eighty‐six non‐carriers (58% female) of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network Observational Study were analyzed. Linear mixed models and Spearman's correlation explored cross‐sectional sex differences in cognition, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarkers, Pittsburgh compound B positron emission tomography ( ¹¹ C‐PiB PET) and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). RESULTS Female carriers performed better than males on delayed recall and processing speed despite similar hippocampal volumes. As the disease progressed, symptomatic females revealed higher increases in MRI markers of neurodegeneration and memory impairment. PiB PET and established CSF AD markers revealed no sex differences. DISCUSSION Our findings suggest an initial cognitive reserve in female carriers followed by a pronounced increase in neurodegeneration coupled with worse performance on delayed recall at later stages of DIAD.
Wearable inertial measurement units (IMU) enable large-scale multicenter studies of everyday gait analysis in patients with rare neurodegenerative diseases such as cerebellar ataxia. To date, the quantity of sensors used in such studies has involved a trade-off between data quality and clinical feasibility. Here, we apply machine learning techniques to potentially reduce the number of sensors required for real-life gait analysis from three sensors to a single sensor on the hip. We trained 1D-CNNs on constrained walking data from individuals with cerebellar ataxia and healthy controls to generate synthetic foot data and predict gait features from a single sensor and tested them in free walking conditions, including the everyday life of unseen subjects. We compare 14 stride-based gait features (e.g. stride length) with three sensors (two on the feet and one on the hip) with our approach estimating the same features based on raw IMU-data from a single sensor placed on the hip. Leveraging layer-wise relevance propagation (LRP) and transfer learning, we determine driving elements of the input signals to predict individuals’ gait features. Our approach achieved a relative error (\(< 5\%\)) similar to the state of the art three-sensor approach. Thus, machine learning-assisted one-sensor systems can reduce the complexity and cost of gait analysis in upcoming clinical studies while maintaining clinical meaningful effect sizes.
Hepatitis E virus (HEV) infection is the most common form of viral hepatitis and is reported to cause neurological manifestation in up to 30% of diagnosed infections. We evaluated the medical reports of all patients (n = 29,994) who were discharged from the Department of Neurology of Ulm University between 01.01.2015 and 30.09.2022 to detect neurological manifestations of HEV. In addition, we retrospectively analyzed the serum samples of n = 99 patients representing different neurological diseases possibly related to HEV for anti-HEV-IgM and anti-HEV-IgG. At the time of discharge from hospital, the etiology of neurological symptoms in these patients was unclear. Overall, five cases of extrahepatic neurological manifestation of HEV (defined as anti-HEV-IgM and HEV-IgG positive) could be detected. An increase of both, anti-IgM- and anti-IgG-serum levels was significantly more common in neuralgic amyotrophy/plexus neuritis/radiculitis than in AIDP/CIDP (P = 0.01), meningitis/encephalitis (P = 0.02), idiopathic peripheral facial paralysis (P = 0.02) and tension headache (P = 0.02). In 15% (n = 15 out of 99) of retrospectively analyzed serum samples, conspicuous positive anti-HEV-IgG levels were detected. This finding was most common in AIDP/CIDP. In conclusion, results of this study indicate neurological manifestation of HEV to be a rare but still underestimated course of disease, occurring at any age and gender. Therefore, testing for HEV should be considered in patients with neurological symptoms of unknown origin, especially in those with neuralgic amyotrophy/plexus neuritis.
Pathogenic aggregation of the protein tau is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and several other tauopathies. Tauopathies are characterized by the deposition of specific tau isoforms as disease-related tau filament structures. The molecular processes that determine isoform-specific deposition of tau are however enigmatic. Here we show that acetylation of tau discriminates its isoform-specific aggregation. We reveal that acetylation strongly attenuates aggregation of four-repeat tau protein, but promotes amyloid formation of three-repeat tau. We further identify acetylation of lysine 298 as a hot spot for isoform-specific tau aggregation. Solid-state NMR spectroscopy demonstrates that amyloid fibrils formed by unmodified and acetylated three-repeat tau differ in structure indicating that site-specific acetylation modulates tau structure. The results implicate acetylation as a critical regulator that guides the selective aggregation of three-repeat tau and the development of tau isoform-specific neurodegenerative diseases.
Diffuse gliomas in adults encompass a heterogenous group of central nervous system neoplasms. In recent years, extensive (epi-)genomic profiling has identified several glioma subgroups characterized by distinct molecular characteristics, most importantly IDH1/2 and histone H3 mutations. A group of 16 diffuse gliomas classified as “adult-type diffuse high-grade glioma, IDH-wildtype, subtype F (HGG-F)” was identified by the DKFZ v12.5 Brain Tumor Classifier . Histopathologic characterization, exome sequencing, and review of clinical data was performed in all cases. Based on unsupervised t -distributed stochastic neighbor embedding and clustering analysis of genome-wide DNA methylation data, HGG-F shows distinct epigenetic profiles separate from established central nervous system tumors. Exome sequencing demonstrated frequent TERT promoter (12/15 cases), PIK3R1 (11/16), and TP53 mutations (5/16). Radiologic characteristics were reminiscent of gliomatosis cerebri in 9/14 cases (64%). Histopathologically, most cases were classified as diffuse gliomas (7/16, 44%) or were suspicious for the infiltration zone of a diffuse glioma (5/16, 31%). None of the cases demonstrated microvascular proliferation or necrosis. Outcome of 14 patients with follow-up data was better compared to IDH-wildtype glioblastomas with a median progression-free survival of 58 months and overall survival of 74 months (both P <0.0001). Our series represents a novel type of adult-type diffuse glioma with distinct molecular and clinical features. Importantly, we provide evidence that TERT promoter mutations in diffuse gliomas without further morphologic or molecular signs of high-grade glioma should be interpreted in the context of the clinicoradiologic presentation as well as epigenetic profile and may not be suitable as a standalone marker for glioblastoma, IDH-wildtype.
Opinion statement Central nervous system (CNS) radiotoxicity remains a challenge in neuro-oncology. Dose distribution advantages of protons over photons have prompted increased use of brain-directed proton therapy. While well-recognized among pediatric populations, the benefit of proton therapy among adults with CNS malignancies remains controversial. We herein discuss the role of protons in mitigating late CNS radiotoxicities in adult patients. Despite limited clinical trials, evidence suggests toxicity profile advantages of protons over conventional radiotherapy, including retention of neurocognitive function and brain volume. Modelling studies predict superior dose conformality of protons versus state-of-the-art photon techniques reduces late radiogenic vasculopathies, endocrinopathies, and malignancies. Conversely, potentially higher brain tissue necrosis rates following proton therapy highlight a need to resolve uncertainties surrounding the impact of variable biological effectiveness of protons on dose distribution. Clinical trials comparing best photon and particle-based therapy are underway to establish whether protons substantially improve long-term treatment-related outcomes in adults with CNS malignancies.
The expanded hexanucleotide GGGGCC repeat mutation in the C9orf72 gene is the main genetic cause of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia. Under one disease mechanism, sense and antisense transcripts of the repeat are predicted to bind various RNA-binding proteins, compromise their function and cause cytotoxicity. Here we identify phenylalanine-tRNA synthetase (FARS) subunit alpha (FARSA) as the main interactor of the CCCCGG antisense repeat RNA in cytosol. The aminoacylation of tRNAPhe by FARS is inhibited by antisense RNA, leading to decreased levels of charged tRNAPhe. Remarkably, this is associated with global reduction of phenylalanine incorporation in the proteome and decrease in expression of phenylalanine-rich proteins in cellular models and patient tissues. In conclusion, this study reveals functional inhibition of FARSA in the presence of antisense RNA repeats. Compromised aminoacylation of tRNA could lead to impairments in protein synthesis and further contribute to C9orf72 mutation-associated pathology.
Although health-related quality of life (HRQoL) has developed into a crucial outcome parameter in clinical research, evidence of the EQ-5D-3L validation performance is lacking in patients with spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA) types 1, 2, 3, and 6. The objective of this study is to assess the acceptability, validity, reliability, and responsiveness of the EQ-5D-3L. For n = 842 predominantly European SCA patients of two longitudinal cohort studies, the EQ-5D-3L, PHQ-9 (Patient Health Questionnaire), and ataxia-specific clinical assessments (SARA: Scale for Assessment and Rating of Ataxia; ADL: activities of daily living as part of Friedreich’s Ataxia Rating Scale; INAS: Inventory of Non-Ataxia Signs) were assessed at baseline and multiple annual follow-ups. The EQ-5D-3L was evaluated regarding acceptability, distribution properties, convergent and known-groups validity, test-retest reliability, and effect size measures to analyze health changes. The non-item response was low (EQ-5D-3L index: 0.8%; EQ-VAS: 3.4%). Ceiling effects occurred in 9.9% (EQ-5D-3L) and 3.0% (EQ-VAS) with a mean EQ-5D-3L index of 0.65 ± 0.21. In total, convergent validity showed moderate to strong Spearman’s rho (rs > 0.3) coefficients comparing EQ-5D-3L and EQ-VAS with PHQ-9, SARA, ADL, and INAS. EQ-5D-3L could discriminate between groups of age, SARA, ADL, and INAS. Intra-class correlation coefficients (EQ-5D-3LICC: 0.95/EQ-VASICC: 0.88) and Kappa statistics (range 0.44 to 0.93 for EQ-5D-3L items) indicated tolerable reliability. EQ-5D-3L shows small (effect size < 0.3) to moderate (effect size 0.3–0.59) health changes regarding ataxia severity. The analysis confirms an acceptable, reliable, valid, and responsive recommended EQ-5D-3L in SCA patients, measuring the HRQoL adequately, besides well-established clinical instruments.
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513 members
N. Ahmad Aziz
  • Department of Population Health Sciences
Dan Ehninger
  • RG Molecular and Cellular Cognition (Bonn)
Sigmund-Freud Str. 27, 53127, Bonn, NRW, Germany
Head of institution
Pierluigi Nicotera
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