Dr. Stefan Krueger
Making the connection:
Dr. Stefan Krueger studies the connections between cell-to-cell communication in the brain, and disorders such as autism. “Basic research has provided advanced knowledge of cell-to-cell communication in general, but we don’t yet understand the role of cell-to-cell communication in particular disorders,” says Dr. Krueger.
Yet studies reveal a breakdown in cell-to-cell communication in the brains of people with autism, notes Dr. Krueger, assistant professor in the Department of Physiology & Biophysics at Dalhousie Medical School. “How cells communicate with one another in the brain affects learning and memory, which in turn control behaviour,” he says. “When this communication changes, behaviour changes.” Dr. Krueger builds on basic knowledge of cell-to-cell communication by examining what happens when that communication breaks down. “We use different methods to study changes in the strength and quantity of the signals that cells send to each other,” he explains. “This will help us understand more about disorders such as autism, Rett syndrome, and Fragile X syndrome, a family of genetic conditions that causes mental impairment.”
Cells release message-sending molecules – called neurotransmitters – via an electrical action called a synapse. Dr. Krueger and his colleagues look at the structure of synapses and changes in their structures. They also record and measure electrical currents which provide an indication of signal strength. “This information provides clues for how our behaviour is modified and controlled,” he says.
It may also hold valuable clues as to why, in some neurodegenerative disorders such as stroke, damage to cells in one area of the brain causes cell death in other areas. “The strength and number of signals being sent by cells in the damaged area of the brain cause receiving cells to become overexcited and then die,” says Dr. Krueger. “We want to know how and why this happens.”