Nencki Institute Seminar

I would like to cordially invite you to the Nencki Institute Seminar which will take place on the 15th of February at 3pm. We will host dr Marzena Stefaniuk (Laboratory of Neurobiology BRAINCITY, The Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology). Her habilitation is processed by the Scientific Council of the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology. She will present her lecture entitled: "Brain plasticity in alcohol use disorder – from single dendritic spines to neuronal networks".



As complicated as it seems to be, a brain is a clump of cells like every other part of the human body. Billions of these cells however form tens of thousands of synapses, i.e. chemical connections with each other. These connections give rise to everything that we are, what we can do, remember, think and feel. Since every day we are surrounded by everchanging environment, our brain adapts through a continuous cognition process. The brain's ability to change and reorganize is called brain plasticity. Where the brain's ability to reorganize itself in response to experience becomes distorted, we deal with a maladaptive form of plasticity. Repeated exposure to some substances or behaviors induces a rewiring of neural circuits. One of such substances is alcohol. Its consumption in excess is linked to a number of negative outcomes, like alcohol use disorder (AUD). In our studies we used animal models of AUD. We focused on two types of plasticity: structural plasticity manifested by the alterations of dendritic spines that carry synapses and functional plasticity from the whole-brain perspective. Our results indicate a mechanism of alcohol craving that involves structural plasticity in the brain driven by MMP-9, an extracellular protein shaping dendritic spines. Our validation study implicated MMP-9 also in motivation to alcohol in humans. Next, to study neuronal ensembles we used c-Fos profiling combined with optical tissue clearing and light-sheet microscopy imaging. c-Fos expression is widely used molecular marker for neuronal populations that undergo plastic changes underlying formation of long-term memory. To reveal brain-wide neuronal activation patterns we trained mice to consume alcohol and snapshotted brain activity in alcohol reexposure. We provided a list of brain structures active in alcohol reexposure and showed an increased brain modularity indicating major functional plasticity and circuitry remodelling. Gathered results led us to conclusion that even occasional alcohol drinking leads to increased brain plasticity and a dramatic rearrangements of brain circuitries manifested by functional neuronal networks disruption. We identify structures presumably crucial in transition from occasional drinking to addiction. Specific neural regions may have a potential to target with brain stimulation techniques as a treatment.

The lecture will be followed by a get together.


Best regards,

Grażyna Mosieniak

Secretary of The Scientific Council

Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology

Date of publication
8 February 2024
Date of event
Nencki Institute