Research and knowledge exchange

Case Studies

Our Case Studies highlight the variety of excellent research carried out at the University of Sussex.

Research involving mice may help us to understand Alzheimer's Disease and how to treat it

By: Anna Ford

Photo source: Mohamad Hassan, Pixabay

Scientists have recorded blood oxygen levels in the hippocampus of mice, showing why the area commonly referred to as ‘the brain’s memory centre’, is vulnerable to damage and degeneration, which is a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

To understand why this region is so sensitive, the University of Sussex researchers, led by Dr Catherine Hall from the School of Psychology and Sussex Neuroscience, studied brain activity and blood flow in the hippocampus of mice, using a cranial window which allowed them to record what neurons and blood vessels were doing while mice ran through a virtual reality environment, as well as measuring blood oxygen levels.

Dr Kira Shaw, a researcher in Hall’s lab said: “We found that blood flow and oxygen levels in the hippocampus were lower than those in the visual cortex. Also, when neurons are active, there is a large increase in blood flow and oxygen levels in the visual cortex. This provides energy to hungry neurons. But in the hippocampus, these responses were much smaller.”

The full research paper, ‘Neurovascular coupling and oxygenation are decreased in hippocampus compared to neocortex because of microvascular differences’ is published in Nature Communications. The research was funded by the Medical Research Council, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and the Wellcome Trust.

Benefits of the research

“These findings are an important step in the search for preventative measures and treatments for Alzheimer’s, because they suggest that increasing blood flow in the hippocampus might be really effective at preventing damage from happening. If it’s right that increasing blood flow in the hippocampus is important in protecting the brain from diseases like Alzheimer’s, then it will throw further weight behind the importance of regular exercise and a low-cholesterol diet to long-term brain health.” – Dr Catherine Hall

Do Elephants have culture?

By: Dr Lucy Bates