ICM researchers work on different scales: from the molecule (DNA, proteins…) to the person and, between them, the cell, which, by its size, is half-way between these two extremes. Two types of cells coexist in the brain and its extension the spinal cord:
- Neurons, the motor of nervous tissue, play the main role in the transmission of information through the successive activation of electrical and chemical mechanisms. The neurons form a network that is incredibly complex and dense. Each neuron consists of a cell body (including a nucleus containing the DNA), an axon that transmits information and dendrites (revoir le text en français. MR) that receive it.
- Glial cells, which are more numerous, have specialized functions. There are:
– Microglial cells that act as sentinels to preserve the integrity of neurons threatened by various types of aggressions.
– Astrocytes that provide support, protection and nutrients.
– Oligodendrocytes that produce the myelin sheath, an envelope that insulates the axons of certain neurons accelerating the propagation of the nervous influx.
ICM researchers need cell cultures, which are easier to manipulate when one wants to reproduce, in a simplified manner, the mechanisms underlying nervous system pathologies. Their studies involve recording the activity of neurons to evaluate possible anomalies of electrical transmission, manipulation of « stem » cells to produce authentic neurons or glial cells and analysis of pathological dysfunction of these cells by quantitative fluorescence microscopy. This type of analysis on living cells recently became possible at the ICM through the use of robotized microscopes.
To approach the function or dysfunction of the brain as a whole, histological techniques on tissue slices allow evaluation of the integrity of populations of neurons and glial cells in different regions of the brain. To be completely effective, these techniques need prior labelling with antibodies or specific stains.
Scientific director: P. Michel.
Director of operations: L. Strehl.