In embryonic development, neuronal cells migrate 'inside out', whereas blood vessels grow in the opposite direction, from the pial surface towards the ventricular surface. Since these two growth processes are coordinated, Acker-Palmer suspects that they are controlled by the same signaling molecules. How some dysfunction in their coordination may lead to cognitive impairments, is one of the main focuses of her research.
Her team uses genetically altered mice and zebrafish as model organisms. Translucent zebrafish are the best vertebrate model to visualise in vivo the dynamics of cell-to-cell communication at the neurovascular interface. High-resolution electron microscopes will be used to study the close connections between endothelial cells in the blood capillaries and glial cells at the blood-brain barrier.
Mouse brain | The microscope image of a mouse brain illustrates the close interaction between neurons (green), astrocytes (blue), and blood vessels (red) in the brain.
Glial cells wrap themselves around blood capillaries and prevent harmful substances from the blood stream to enter the brain. Acker-Palmer aims to decipher the molecular signaling pathways regulating the neurovascular interface. "If we can intervene in the mechanism and temporarily open the blood-brain barrier, we can insert active agents and find new approaches for treating dementia and mental illness," she explains. The European Research Council will fund her project with an 'Advanced Investigator Grant' worth 2.5 million Euros over the next five years.
Amparo Acker-Palmer, born in Sueca, Spain in 1968, studied biology and biochemistry at the University of Valencia, where she obtained her PhD in 1996. Then she moved to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory EMBL in Heidelberg to perform her postdoctoral work. In 2001, she moved to Martinsried, near Munich, to head a junior research group on signal transduction at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology. In 2007, she became Professor at the Macromolecular Complexes Center of Excellence at the Goethe University Frankfurt. Acker-Palmer has been the chair of the Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology Department at Goethe University Frankfurt since 2011. She received a Paul Ehrlich Award for Young Scientists in 2010.
(© Frankfurt University, AcademiaNet)