Carmelo Quarta winner of a ERC consolidator

Carmelo Quarta, Inserm researcher in Daniela Cota’s team at Neurocentre Magendie has just been awarded an ERC consolidator with the Ghostbuster project. Congratulations!

About the project

Ghostbuster– Hunting ghosts neurons in the neuroendocrine hypothalamus

One particular region of the brain, the hypothalamus, contains extremely heterogeneous neurons that coordinate behaviour and physiological functions through cross-talk mechanisms with hormones. Neuronal diversity is key to enabling hypothalamic functions and, according to neuroscience dogma, is largely programmed during embryonic life. But what if this model is incomplete? Can neural heterogeneity be plastically modulated throughout adult life as well?

Our hypothesis is that special ‘Ghost’ neurons hidden within the hypothalamus can plastically lose and change their identity throughout adult life in order to coordinate multiple functions essential for life, including feeding, metabolism and reproduction. Maladaptive changes in this identity plasticity may contribute to neuroendocrine disorders such as obesity or fertility problems. We have named these neurons ‘Ghosts’ because, according to our data, they express negligible levels of their key neuropeptidergic marker and are therefore ‘invisible’ to these markers.

The Ghostbuster project will hunt down these special brain cells and uncover their role in physiology and metabolic disease. A multidisciplinary approach will be used, combining lineage tracing strategies, nutritional interventions, single cell profiling of hypothalamic neurons, bioinformatics analysis and viral-based tools to target ghost cell-related genes and functions in vivo.

Our project will challenge the dogma that brain neurons have negligible cell reprogramming capacity after development and provide a new framework for understanding how brain function is plastically regulated throughout life. It will also provide potential new molecular targets that could be used to precisely manipulate specific neurons for the effective treatment of brain disorders such as obesity and beyond.

Publication: 23/11/23
Last update 01/12/23