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Human and animal models for translational research on neurodegeneration: challenges and opportunities from South America

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Neurodegenerative diseases are the most frequent cause of dementia, representing a burden for public health systems (especially in middle and middle-high income countries). Although most research on this issue is concentrated in first-world centers, growing efforts in South America are affording important ...

Neurodegenerative diseases are the most frequent cause of dementia, representing a burden for public health systems (especially in middle and middle-high income countries). Although most research on this issue is concentrated in first-world centers, growing efforts in South America are affording important breakthroughs. This emerging agenda poses new challenges for the region but also new opportunities for the field.

Concerning human research, South America offers invaluable possibilities to pursue neurogenetic studies and clinical trials. This region possesses the world’s largest population of familial Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease, alongside multiple novel and rare functional genomic variants of other diseases. Moreover, poor socioeconomic conditions in several communities provide a natural scenario to study the role of vulnerability, resilience, and genetic-cultural interaction on disease progression. These opportunities are already being exploited by consolidated research groups in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Brazil, among others, via cutting-edge approaches which include connectomics, biomarkers, and neuropsychological assessment.

The region also constitutes a rich platform for developments via animal research. Preclinical testing of new therapeutic concepts has been difficult due to the lack of naturally occurring disease models. Advances could be made by studying species such as the O. Degus, an endemic rodent from Chile that spontaneously develops an analogue of dementia including amyloid-beta (Aβ) aggregates, neurofibrillary tangles, abnormal levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and other markers associated with neurodegeneration. In addition, science in the region has been enhanced through new models from promising groups (e.g., single and double immunohistochemistry, inmunoblot, RT-PCR, behavioural phenotyping, CNS lesioning techniques, neuronal tracers for connectivity studies, small craniotomy for drug delivery). These approaches are now fuelled by the engagement of international centers (e.g., the Buck and the Fraunhofer Institutesin Chile, or the Max Planck Institute in Argentina) and the development of multicenter alliances.

Nevertheless, most research groups still work in isolation or in sporadic collaboration, without developing large-scale multicenter studies or active cooperation networks. The field could grow exponentially by combining the strengths of regional research with higher visibility, a translational philosophy, and enhanced global networking. Importantly, collaborative developments may promote the establishment of translational centers studying neurodegeneration.

This research topic seeks to engage researchers worldwide. Specifically, it aims to integrate the community of experts across the globe, and to establish new challenges and developments for future investigation. We welcome research focused on neurodegenerative research in South America. We are particularly interested in studies assessing the interplay among genetic, neural, and behavioral dimensions of these diseases, as well as articles on vulnerability factors, comparisons of findings from various countries, and works promoting multicenter and collaborative networking. More generally, our call for papers covers a broad scope of human-research approaches (behavioral assessment, neuroimaging, electromagnetic techniques, brain connectivity, peripheral measures), animal methodologies (genetics, epigenetics, proteomics, metabolomics, other molecular biology tools), species (all human and non-human animals, sporadic, and genetic versions), and article types (original research, review, and opinion papers). Through this wide-ranging proposal, we hope to introduce a fresh approach to the challenges and opportunities of research on neurodegeneration in South America.


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