Research Projects

Investigating the brain immune cells through scans

Delphine Boche 2018

Awarded to:
Prof Delphine Boche

Current award:
£106,505.00

Institution:
University of Southampton

Dates:
1 September 2020 - 31 August 2023

Full project name:

Characterisation of the human microglial profile identified with the TSPO-PET ligand DPA-714: Implications for the interpretation of brain imaging

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Researchers at the University of Southampton are looking at whether we can improve our understanding of the brain’s immune cells by using the brain scans.

The role of the immune system in diseases like Alzheimer’s is an increasingly important area of interest for dementia researchers.

Microglia, the brain’s immune cells, act as dutiful cleaners tidying up waste produced by cells in the brain. However, if they clear away too much, they can do more harm than good.

To visualise the microglia in the brains of people researchers use brain PET scans. However, this requires the use of a chemical called TSPO that latches onto the microglia and generates a radioactive signal used to study it. Currently we don’t exactly know whether this chemical latches onto the protective or harmful type of microglia. This means we don’t know how to interpret the PET scans that reveal microglia activity in the brain.

In this PhD project, Prof Delphine Boche and her PhD student will look at the chemical’s interaction with microglia in more detail. Using brain tissue donated by people who died of Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers will explore microglia from early to late stage disease. They will look at the shape of the cells recognised by TSPO and the role of other immune cells that may interact with the chemical.

Their findings will improve a doctor’s ability to decide whether microglia in the brain are harmful or protective based on PET brain scans. It could also improve researchers understanding of how the immune system plays a role in diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The immune system’s role in diseases like Alzheimer’s is the new frontier of dementia research and this funding is extremely welcome.

Using brain tissue donated by people who died of Alzheimer’s disease, we will explore microglia from the early to the latest stage of disease. We will look at the shape of the microglia and the role of other immune cells that may interact with the chemical vital to see microglia in brain scans.

This work will improve our understanding of the role the immune system plays and improve a doctor’s ability to decide whether microglia in the brain are harmful or protective based on brain scans alone.

Prof Delphine Boche

Delphine Boche 2018

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