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Our ability to move, think, perceive, is dependent on a timely transmission of information among specialized cells called neurons. This information is sent via a series of electrical impulses that travel along specialized structures called "axons", whose ability to conduct signal is dependent on the presence of "myelin". Myelin is a fatty substance composed of lipids and proteins that is an integral component of a cell called "oligodendrocyte". Oligodendrocytes are the myelin-forming cells of the CNS and are essential for brain function. Oligodendrocytes originate from neural stem cells that undergo several changes before reaching the stage of late maturation. Dr. Casaccia’s laboratory is working in the following major research areas:
• EPIGENETIC REGULATION of gene expression (how the environment affects the ability of DNA to express genes);
• MYELIN FORMATION in development and in disease;
• MECHANISMS OF NEURODEGENERATION and disease progression in MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (towards the discovery of new treatments);
• PERSONALIZED MEDICINE (define the effect of genes, diet, exercise, stress and social interaction in therapy responsiveness and disease manifestation.
These areas are focused on the following goals: 1) define the steps leading to the acquisition of oligodendrocyte identity, in order to correct potential deficits due to aging and pathological states; 2) understand how myelin forms during development, in order to better design protocols to instruct stem cells towards forming new myelin; 3) develop new therapies to preserve axonal function and improve recovery after myelin damage has occurred; 4) develop patient-based therapeutic approaches.