Research

The Institute of Neuropathology is involved in research activities. The main fields of interest are neurodegeneration and the development of cancer in the nervous system.

In the last 20 years we have characterized the neuropathogenic determinants of the human foamy virus using transgenic mice. This was particularly important as it was hoped that the human foamy virus might be useful as a vector for gene therapy. Furthermore, our institute generated the first transgenic model for the development of astrocytic tumors. Astrocytomas develop stochastically upon accumulation of various genetic lesions. One of the current research programs in neurocarcinogenesis uses retroviral tagging to elicit accelerated astrocytomas in transgenic mice. The fundamental aim is to uncover hitherto unknown cooperating oncogenes which may play a role during malignant transformation of astrocytomas, and may be responsible for the remarkable migratory capacity of astrocytoma cells.

The most important topic of research in our institute, however, is the attempt to understand the intricacies of prion neuroinvasion. The latter term defines the process by which infectious prions (the causative agents of BSE and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), having entered the body of a victim from an extra-cerebral site, transmigrate into the brain and finally induce disease within the central nervous system. In order to achieve this ambitious goal, a variety of tools of modern biology, such as recombinant adenoviruses and other viral vectors, transgenic and knockout mice, adoptive transfer of haematopoietic cells and a large array of immunological methods are applied. More recently, we have started exploiting the latest tools of functional genomics (high-throughput transcriptional analysis using DNA microarrays, proteomics and representational difference analysis).

The research activities of the Institute of Neuropathology rely on a wide cast network of collaborations. The most important collaborators are Prof. Charles Weissmann (Imperial College, London) and Prof. Rolf Zinkernagel (Institute of Experimental Immunology, Zurich). In addition, Adriano Aguzzi and other faculty members of the Institute are active in networks of the European Union (shared cost actions as well as combined actions aimed at fostering collaboration between European scientists in the field of prion diseases).