Members of our department have achieved outstanding results in the BRAINScapes 2020 Image competition run by Oxford Neuroscience. The annual competition showcases inspirational images that capture the spirit of our neuroscience community, and DPAG is represented by four of the five prize-winning entries.
Congratulations to our joint top prize winners DPhil student Auguste Vadisiute from the Molnár Group with "Microglia Interaction with 'Silence' Neurons" and Associate Professor Francis Szele with "A Neurosphere of Influence".
Congratulations to our runners-up Dr Robert Lees, Postdoctoral Research Scientist in the Packer Group, with "Our World is in Grayscale" and DPhil student Andrew Shelton, who is part of the Butt and Packer Groups, with "Cerebrum Borealis".
The full results and details of each winning image can be found on the Oxford Neuroscience Website.
Following her success in the competition, we spoke to joint top prize winner Auguste Vadisiute.
Auguste is studying "the role of microglia in activity-dependent neuronal network maturation and maintenance". Microglia are considered the gardeners of the neuronal connections; eliminating connections between neurons according to their activity. Her central aim is to determine the morphological and functional consequences of microglia after short-term and long-term synaptic ‘silencing and activating’ on affected synapses in the developing cortex and investigate the molecular pathway of fractalkine signaling in activity-dependent maturation of neuronal connectivity through synaptic pruning by microglia. According to Auguste: "Synaptic pruning by microglia in the cerebral cortex has not been studied in detail due to complex synaptic connectivity that makes more challenging to trace pathway-specific synaptic inputs and microglia role during maturation and maintenance of cerebral cortex." She developed her prize-winning image to assess how synaptic ‘silencing’ affects neuron-microglia interaction. She used confocal microscopy to visualise the 'silence' neurons and their interaction with microglia.
Auguste on why Microglia are so important
"Microglia are very interesting cell type; they are unique brain cells and their origin is different from other glial cells. Microglia have a highly variable morphology. Individual cells can cycle reversibly from an active amoeboid to a resting ramified form and functional activity of microglia correlates with their morphological changes. Microglia are thought to play a key role in the remodeling of neuronal circuits and shape the developing CNS by scavenging synapses. During the development of the nervous system the overabundantly generated synapses are eliminated by tightly controlled and region-specific synaptic pruning in order to induce the effectiveness of neuronal transmissions. Synaptic pruning by microglia needs to be strictly controlled since defective neuronal connectivity may lead to various neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia. When synaptic pruning activity is suppressed, or microglial cells are less active, a too dense network may cause autism spectrum disorders and this process is known as under-pruning. Microglia relationship with autism has been demonstrated in a human single cell genomics study where the strongest cell type-specific molecular changes in autism occurred in microglia. The opposite, over-pruning, when the neuronal network becomes too spare after very active pruning occurs in schizophrenia followed by a reduction of synaptic density."
Auguste on what it's like to study neuroscience at Oxford
"To study neuroscience is very exciting, but at the same time extremely challenging because it draws many different disciplines and fields of study. I consider myself lucky to be a postgraduate student in Oxford University. We have a great environment, outstanding facilities to conduct our research and the possibility to interact with world leading scientists in this field. DPAG brings together people with different scientific backgrounds and it is very important and useful because we can learn from each other. I am very happy to do my DPhil in Molnár’s group; both my supervisors (Zoltán Molnár and Anna Hoerder-Suabedissen) are very supportive and their insights and suggestions helped me a lot to propose this project on the role of microglia in activity-dependent neuronal network maturation and maintenance."