The Quintanalab-Calçotada 2019 took place on a super sunny April day in El Priorat de Banyeres, a tiny village near Vilafranca. Thanks, Andrea, for offering the house!
It is already a tradition that the whole group gathers together one day to eat calçots with salsa romesco and have fun.
(Please, note Albert’s Salt Bae position…)
Àlex was the calçots chef. A fire was made, and he cooked the calçots with patience and expertise. He did an excellent job as they were very delicious!
After the heavy lunch, to digest, we played dodgeball. Ask Albert who won. Spoiler: not his team.
Then we drunk mojitos and talked and drunk more mojitos… It was a very nice day! Can’t wait for the Quintanalab-Calçotada 2020!
Last 24th and 25th of April, Andrea, Pablo, Elisenda and Albert went to Zurich to attend the Swiss Light-sheet Microscopy Workshop.
It was a two days meeting in which researchers from all over the world gathered together to share the observational techniques they are using. Users and developers discussed newest advances in the field and exchanged ideas.
Elisenda was telling me about these 3D glasses that transported you inside a gigantic transparent brain in which you could observe a specific neuron from all possible angles. Exciting! Pablo is there in the picture:
They were very impressed by everything they saw, and learned a lot! Albert said it was a very productive conference and can’t wait to have the chance to try some of these techniques in the lab. He also told me they were happy they had the chance to have a typical Swiss dinner: fondue, raclette and rösti. Fabien might not agree about this being a typical Swiss dinner and not a French one…
Elisenda and I (Roser) went to L’Olivera School, in Sant Cugat, yesterday, to talk about neuroscience to 8-year-old children. They celebrate the Science Week this week and bring researchers to the school to explain what they do in their labs.
We talked about the brain, about neurons and glial cells, about neurotransmitters and about emotions.
Here you can see Eli performing a synapse:
It was a very cool experience as they were very excited and motivated. Let’s see if they become neuroscientists someday…
Last week three research centers at UAB celebrated an Elevator Pitch contest. Students and researchers had 2 minutes to explain their research projects to the audience, in a fun and understandable way.
There were 20 participants from the IBB, the ICTA-UAB and INc (our institute), and all of them talked about what they are doing in their labs. They all did amazing presentations, and we had a very nice time learning from them!
Pablo explained his PhD project, in which he puts all his energy and passion. He is investigating how to cure motion sickness (yes, he is not working in mitochondrial disease, but we still like him), using optogenetics and chemogenetics. Doing his research in mice, he turns on and off specific neuron populations to discover which ones are involved in this annoying phenomenon of feeling sick.
The audience were the jury, and through their votes they decided Pablo had to be the first winner. He did an excellent job with his communication, and we are very proud of him! Congrats, Pablo!
We published our first preprint last week. For those who aren’t familiarized, a preprint is a study to be published in a Journal, that has not been reviewed yet. The aim is to make the results available as soon as possible so Science can advance faster. We are very excited about it, and very happy because it has been featured by the preprint platform Biorxiv for reaching the top 5% altmetric score within their first days after releasing it; and it has also been selected as one of the ERC Research results of the week! So cool!
But what is it about?
As you may know, dysfunctions of the mitochondrial energy-generating machinery cause a series of usually fatal diseases collectively known as mitochondrial disease. In this disease, high energy-requiring organs, like the brain, are especially affected, showing many severe symptoms such as motor alterations, respiratory deficits or epilepsy that, in many cases, can be fatal. Hence, our group is driven to better understand these pathologies, with the overarching goal of finding effective therapies to treat them.
This time, we focused on Leigh Syndrome, the most common presentation of mitochondrial disease with a predominant affectation of the central nervous system, particularly in two brain areas, the brainstem (that controls all basic functions that keep us alive) and the basal ganglia, involved in refining motor coordination. We knew that one protein in the mitochondria is critical in this disease: the Complex I subunit NDUFS4, because animal models lacking this subunit in all their cells reproduce the classical signs of Leigh Syndrome described before. However, there were some pressing questions remaining: do symptoms appear due to all cells in the body not working properly, or some specific cells are responsible for them?
To study this, we selectively inactivate NDUFS4 in three neuronal populations we suspected could be key, and keep NDUFS4 working in all other cells in the body. Observing what symptoms remained we could know the role of these neurons in the brain alterations these patients suffer.
What we found was that the inactivation of this subunit in a certain kind of excitatory neurons (the fancy-scientist name is vlgut2-expression glutamatergic neurons) caused brainstem inflammation, motor and respiratory deficits, and early death; and that its inactivation in inhibitory (GABAergic neurons) led to basal ganglia inflammation, severe refractory epileptic seizures and premature death.
Bottom line, these results are very important to contribute understand the underlying cellular mechanisms of mitochondrial disease in general, and Leigh Syndrome in particular, as we have identified which specific neurons are behind the brain lesions observed in this pathology and their specific contribution to the symptoms. Therefore, now we have new knowledge to try to identify which cellular aspects are failing in those cells so we can start to envisage different methods to correct them.
The Quintana-Sanz house was transported back to the USA last week. A huge turkey presided a big table around which the Quintanalab team sat to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Albert and Eli feel nostalgia for their years in the States, and they try to maintain the best traditions (especially those involving food). There was a delicious pumpkin pie, exhuberant Brussel sprouts, an astonishing green bean casserole, mouth-watering cornbread, exquisite mac’n’cheese, among other incredible foods, everything homecooked by Quintanalab members. Kudos to all lab members for such a feast! So delicious!
After the lunch, the lab had many good laughs playing the HEADS UP game, and sipping some coffee (we mean espresso) while the afternoon became the evening.
It is a good thing to give mitochondria a little breathing space for a while 😉
Last Thursday 15th was the Open Doors day at the institute. 90 students from the Institut Torras i Bages and the Lycée Français de Barcelone visited the facilities of the center and learned about what we do in the laboratories.
We had the opportunnity to talk to them about how our research can help understand mitochondrial disease and find novel treatments.
We also explained what techniques we use. They could observe fluorescent mitochondria under the microscope, saw cool molecular biology tools and learned how to measure neuronal activity!
Fabien was specially happy because he could speak in French 😉
It was a very good experience and we hope it helped incentivate scientific vocations among them!
Last 10th and 11th of October, the INc celebrated its VI Scientific Conferences, and we were obviously there. It was fantastic! More than 130 researchers and students gathered together in a beautiful hotel, in Sant Feliu de Guíxols, to present their research and foster collaborations.
PhD students of 2nd year gave scientific communications explaining their projects, and Andrea was one of them. Pablo gave a talk as well, and Irene, Álex, Fabien, Pati and Laura presented posters. It was a great opportunity for them to receive interesting comments about their work.
Dr. Carmen Sandi, president of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), attended the conferences and gave an amazing plenary lecture. It was a pleasure to have the chance to talk to her!
After the plenary lecture, we all played a Trivia game, and guess what team was winning! Albert, Elisenda, Irene and Álex; ‘The Tsunamis’. Then, some technological issues happened… A conspiracy?
The conferences were also a good opportunity for us to better know some companies that provide services related to our work: publishing houses, lab material suppliers, etc. We would like to thank all of them for sponsoring the conferences!
Even knowing all the stress involved in the organization, we are already looking forward to the next edition of the conferences. Hopefully, the sun will rise to the occasion next time!
(The sun was only there for this picture…)