XIII Neurobiology Symposium (Societat Catalana de Biologia)

The Societat Catalana de Biologia celebrated the 13th edition of their Neurobiology symposium, this week, at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans.

Marcos, Gunter, Armin and Maria Helena presented their research projects (excellent talks!), and Mònica won the best poster award.

Mònica’s poster was about the research they are carrying out in trying to understand the role that mitochondrial dsRNA has in triggering neuroinflammation in Leigh syndrome. To study this, they have set up a new viral vector approach that targets specific type of neurons, with the aim of reducing the dsRNA molecules that are present in one of the most affected areas of the mouse model of the disease.

What a team!! Congrats, guys!

Albert received the committed optimist in science award

The Anoche tuve un sueño magazine organizes every year the Optimistas Comprometidos award, in which, in different areas, the work of a person or organization is recognized.

Last May 7, in the auditorium of the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, the X edition of the award was held and Albert was awarded in the scientific category for the ResisCHIP project. With this line of research, we are working on the development of a rapid kit to detect antibiotic resistance and thus be able to find an effective treatment when there is an infection. Congratulations!

Neurons responsible for motion sickness identified

We just published a paper in PNAS in which we describe in mice which specific neurons transmit the signals that cause this discomfort.

In this article, which is a collaboration with the University of Washington, we analyzed the cells of the vestibular nuclei of mice subjected to short and repeated rounds of spinning, and demonstrated the importance of neurons that express the VGLUT2 protein in motion sickness symptoms.

These neurons are required for rotation-induced effects of motion sickness, such as decreased appetite, lower body temperature, reduced locomotion, and conditioned taste avoidance (aversion to a taste introduced close to the time of spinning).

Blocking them by chemogenetics (molecules specially designed to interact with these specific cells) prevents motion sickness in mice subjected to spinning. And also that their activation by means of a beam of light (optogenetics) in still mice reproduces the same symptoms of dizziness as when they are subjected to rotation.

Specifically, we identified a subgroup of VGLUT2 neurons that express the cholecystokinin gene (CCK-neurons) as being responsible for the effects of motion sickness by sending signals to an area of the brain called the parabrachial nucleus, responsible for generating unpleasant sensations.

The mice to which we administer a drug that blocks the CCK-A receptor have less activation of the parabrachial nucleus and have less motion sickness symptoms. Common anti-motion sickness drugs target the histaminergic system, causing drowsiness. CCK-A receptor blocking drugs, which are already approved by the American and European Medicines Associations (FDA and EMA) as a treatment for gastric problems, are safe and do not have this unwanted effect, so they would be an excellent option to treat motion sickness.

In future studies, we want to further define the contribution of these neurons to other types of dizziness to advance in the approval of drugs that block the CCK-A receptor as a new therapy against this discomfort.

Article: Pablo Machuca-Márquez, Laura Sánchez-Benito, Fabien Menardy, Andrea Urpi, Mònica Girona, Emma Puighermanal, Isabella Appiah, Richard D. Palmiter, Elisenda Sanz and Albert Quintana. «Vestibular CCK signaling drives motion sickness–like behavior in mice». October 17, 2023. PNAS. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2304933120

Laura Cutando awarded with a Ramon y Cajal contract

The Agencia Estatal de Investigación announced the provisional list of researchers awarded with a Ramon y Cajal contract and we are extremely happy as Laura Cutando has been selected. The purpose of this grant is to promote the incorporation of researchers with an outstanding career into research organizations, so that they acquire the skills that will allow them to obtain a stable position in a research organization of the Spanish Science System.

The main line of her research will be focused on studying the genomic and functional alterations taking place in specific cell populations of the cerebellum in mental and neurodevelopmental disorders such as Rett Syndrome. Through the combination of cell-type specific omics, gene editing tools, mouse models, and behavioral, histological, and molecular studies, she aims to identify potential therapeutic targets to ameliorate cerebellum-dependent symptoms observed in these diseases.

We are so proud of her! Huraaa!

(Thanks to Marta Luna for the image. Always the best meme maker)

Cannabidiol receives an orphan drug designation from the EMA for the treatment of Leigh syndrome

Emma, Albert and Eli filed the application to the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which has recently designated this compound as an orphan drug for the treatment of a rare disease.

To facilitate the development and authorization of drugs for rare diseases, regulatory agencies can give certain medicines the designation of orphan drugs, which gives them several incentives.

Leigh Syndrome is a very severe neurodegenerative mitochondrial disease that affects the pediatric population. Because mitochondria do not work well and there is a lack of energy, patients have problems in many organs and systems, but mainly in the muscles and nervous system, which are the ones requiring most energy. In an extensive preclinical study combining the use of animal models of the disease with patients-derived cells, researchers of our group have shown that cannabidiol exerts multiple beneficial effects. Among them, they found a decrease in the production of oxidative stress and inflammation, an improvement in social and motor problems, a reduction in epilepsy and an increase in life expectancy in Leigh syndrome mouse models.

“We hope to be able to conduct soon a clinical study on the use of cannabidiol in patients”, explains Emma, one of the leaders of this study. In order to facilitate development steps, they have just obtained an orphan drug designation by the European Medicines Agency, which entails several benefits such as scientific advice and assistance in protocols, market exclusivity and reduced development costs, among others, with the ultimate goal of providing an effective drug for the treatment of this devastating disease.

Calçotada 2023

One more time, we celebrated a calçotada at Andrea’s grandparents’ house, in a small village of El Penedès.

Old, new, and who knows if future (!) generations of Quintanalab members were reunited for the best of the reasons: eating calçots until our bodies complained.

Although it was a team game, Alex was the main cheff, with the help of his son Luca.

We ate (a lot!), played board games, and enjoyed the time together somewhere nicer than in the lab (although we do like labs).

Quintanalab members are the best <3

Already waiting for next year’s!



Brain Awareness Week

Last Friday, within the Brain Awareness Week, Laura Cutando gave a talk to 9-year-old students from Escola Enric Grau i Fontseré, in Flix.

It was the end of a series of workshops, organized by the INc-UAB communications department and the educational cooperative Eduxarxa, in which students discovered the nervous system.

In the talk, Laura told them how it is like to work in a lab and showed them some of the experiments they can do to test the memory and motor skills.

Who knows if some of them will become neuroscientists one day!

Albert received an ICREA Academia award

Albert has been awarded with an ICREA Academia! We are extremely happy for him! The recognition, which is awarded for five years, promotes and rewards the research excellence of professors at public universities in Catalonia. The program contributes to intensifying the research carried out by researchers who are in an active and expansive stage of their career, reducing their teaching duties and providing financial support. Great news for the lab, let’s keep it up!

We have an ERC Proof of Concept grant!

We have great news! The European Research Council awarded Albert with a Proof of Concept grant to work on ResisCHIP, a kit we are developing to quickly detect antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

AMR causes over 700.000 deaths each year and is associated to reduced quality of life, increased hospitalization periods and medical costs. Hence, developing fast diagnostic methods to identify the optimal treatment is key to effectively fight AMR and increase survival rates of patients encountering life-threatening infections. So far, diagnostics rely on bacterial cultures, leading to slow turnaround times, which are linked to the preventive administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics, often inefficient and leading to worse disease outcomes and spread of AMR. Novel approaches such as DNA PCR-based diagnostic panels or next generation sequencing methods have been recently proposed to address this issue. However, they are target a limited number of pathogens and genes or require expensive equipment and highly-trained personnel. Furthermore, they require a culture step to reach detection levels, usually lasting a few hours, that can be critical for serious conditions.

Recently, using technology derived from ERC StG and PoC grants, we designed a method to concentrate, purify, and isolate bacterial RNA in just 5 minutes. With this grant, we seek to develop and validate these tools, combined with a rapid RNA chip array with single-molecule resolution, to provide a culture-free, fast, and highly sensitive alternative to bacterial infection diagnostics from direct blood samples.

Once developed, ResisCHIP will provide a tailor-made diagnostic kit with the capacity to identify thousands of genes and pathogens from a blood sample in less than 2 hours, allowing the rapid selection of the best treatment, improving AMR stewardess, and becoming a significant breakthrough in AMR diagnostics.

Diseño emoji vector champagne svg jpg png eps | Etsy EspañaCheeeeeeers


Last Tuesday, some members of the ENACH Association visited us.

(From left to the right: ENACH Association members: Tony Moreno and Naza Martínez with their daugthers, Inés and María, together with Antonio López; and, representing INc-UAB: Dr. Jesús Giraldo (INc-UAB Director) Albert and Eli)

We are going to start a new research project, promoted by them, to identify changes in the gene expression of ENACH (NBIA in English) patients’ fibroblasts. NBIA are neurodegenerative diseases in which there is an accumulation of iron in the brain. The objective of the project, framed in the ENACH Synergy Platform, is to find therapeutical targets to develop new drugs for their treatment. Research will be developed using biological material from PKAN, PLAN and BPAN patients.

It was a pleasure to have them around and we are very glad to have the chance to contribute searching solutions for these diseases.


AEPMI’s meeting

Albert was in Madrid last Saturday to participate in the Asociación de enfermos de patologías mitocondriales’s meeting, at Fundación Once.

It was a very constructive and informative day, where experts in different fields related to mitochondrial disease presented their updates on research, patient registry and therapies.

The conferences offered a big picture of where we are now and what the next steps will be.

For Albert, it was great to be near clinicians, patients and other researchers with whom Quintanalab shares objectives, challenges and hope!

Already waiting for the next edition!

Pati’s farewell

After all these years of having Pati around, she left the lab 🙁 🙁 🙁

We are very sad for ourselves, but also very happy for her, as she started a new life as a project manager at IDIBELL, and we are sure she will enjoy it and do an excellent job.

We celebrated a looong farewell, starting with a UAB brunch with all M1-building-colleagues:



And then we had a nice dinner, with the people in the lab, at a fantastic Italian restaurant.

Afterward, we went to have some drinks nearby, told stories and went a bit emotional.

Oh, Pati, we will miss you so much!

A trojan horse in neurons

Marta, Patrizia and Albert just published a new review on how mitochondria may act as a trojan horse in neurons. This is because, due to their bacterial origin, mitochondria have a high immunogenic potential. Indeed, mitochondria have been identified as an intracellular source of molecules that can elicit cellular responses to pathogens. The problem is that compromised mitochondria can release mitochondrial content into the cytosol, triggering an unwanted cellular immune response that can cause the degeneration of the cell. In this review, Marta, Patrizia and Albert provide new insights on mitochondria-driven inflammation as a potential therapeutic target for neurodegenerative and primary mitochondrial diseases.

Funding by the Spanish Research Agency

We are veeery happy to announce we have received a 3-year grant from the Spanish Research Agency, to study the molecular determinants of neuronal death in mitochondrial disease. We want to understand the role of the immune system in mitochondrial disease, both in animal models and in human samples, and thanks to this grant we will work to figure it out. We also received a fellowship for a PhD student, so, hopefully, Quintanalab will grow soon 😊

We have received a Proof of Concept UAB grant!

We have received a Proof of Concept UAB grant to transfer our mito-based technology to develop a diagnostic kit for bacteria resistance. The project, which is a collaboration with Hospital Parc Taulí, will consist of creating a fast and highly sensitive approach to detect antimicrobial resistance (AMR), based on checking the expression of different resistance genes. The development of this disruptive methodology could represent a significant step forward in the fight against AMR, allowing clinicians to find a precise antibiotic for each case 👩‍🔬🦠💪👏

These grants are supported by the Secretaria d’Universitats i Recerca of the Departament d’Empresa i Coneixement de la Generalitat de Catalunya and are funded by the Fons Europeu de Desenvolupament Regional (FEDER).

More info about the project

Marie Curie fellowships


We have EXCELLENT news: Laura and Marta got both a Marie Curie fellowship!
They are brilliant – this is an extremely competitive grant, especially this year that the European Commission received a record number of applications.There were more than 11,000 proposals, and only 1,630 were selected. Two of them are Laura’s and Marta’s!

The grant will allow them to work for two years on their projects at our lab:
Marta will be working on the MitoTROJAN project, based on the hypothesis that the bacterial origin of mitochondria can trick altered neurons in mitochondrial disease patients into believing they have been infected, which leads to their cell death. She wants to identify the mechanisms involved in this response to identify novel therapeutic targets not just for mitochondrial disease but other pathologies linked to mitochondrial dysfunction, such as neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
On the other hand, Laura will study cerebellar mitochondrial alterations in Rett Syndrome, a genetic disease in which some genes encoding for mitochondrial proteins appeared differentially expressed. Since the cerebellum is one of the brain regions with higher energy requirements, she wants to study the vulnerability of its different cell types to suffer mitochondrial alterations. The project will provide novel insights into the pathophysiology of this disease, by unveiling potential therapeutical targets.


Two amazing new doctors

As the new year begins, we would like to look back to 2020 for a last minute. It was a tough year, but the scientific community got two amazing new doctors!


And Pablo defended his thesis, GLUTAMATERGIC VESTIBULAR NEURONS SUSTAIN MOTION-INDUCED AUTONOMIC AND AVERSIVE RESPONSES, online in July. He did a super-great job as well, it was a great presentation with a very nice discussion. Look at him holding his little baby:

We are veeeery proud of them, and wish all the best for their scientific careers! We already have their pictures on our hall of fame:

Our project has been selected by La Marató 2019

Our research project ‘Modulation of mitochondrial retrograde signaling as a treatment for Leigh syndrome’ has been selected by La Marató de TV3 Foundation, within its 2019 edition, dedicated to rare diseases, to receive 300,000 euros of funding.

It is a collaboration between Dr. Francesc Xavier Soriano’s lab and ours, in which we are going to study mitochondrial retrograde signaling (RTM), a mechanism neurons use to compensate for alterations produced by mitochondrial dysfunctions. Potentiating RTM through drugs as CBD is an interesting therapeutical approach for mitochondrial disease, but we still have to better understand how RTM works to find these drugs that can have the best effectiveness.

We are really glad to have this opportunity!

How is long-term memory created and consolidated?

Albert and Eli participated in an international study published in Nature, which describes the processes occurring in the hippocampal neurons to create long-lasting memories.

Long-term memory is a brain mechanism that allows us to encode and retain an almost unlimited amount of information throughout our lifetime. Key proteins that activate protein synthesis, such as the eIF2 initiation factor, are involved in the process.

In this study, coordinated by McGill University (Montreal, Canada), they observed that eIF2 is involved in the formation of new long duration memories through its activity in two types of neurons in the hippocampus: excitatory neurons and neurons expressing somatostatin, a group of inhibitory neurons.

In parallel and autonomously, the reduction of eIF2 bound to a phosphorus molecule (phosphorylated) in these two subpopulations is enough to increase protein synthesis, strengthen connections between neurons, and improve long-term memory.

“To study these effects, we used a technique we had developed, that showed that the changes in the excitatory neurons during learning are similar to those observed by genetically preventing eIF2a phosphorylation in these neurons”, explains Eli. This is important because it validated the genetic model and allowed identifying the changes that learning produces at a transcriptional level.

“The existence of two autonomous processes for memory consolidation mediated by the non-phosphorylated form of eIF2a may respond to an evolutionary advantage in ensuring and regulating the duration of a given memory”, says Albert.

The study is the first to analyze separately the role of excitatory and inhibitory neurons in the hippocampus in the consolidation of these types of memories, and helps to understand the creation and maintenance of memories phenomenon, which continues to belargely unknown.

Read the article

La Caixa Foundation will fund our project!

We are very happy to announce we have been selected to receive a grant from La Caixa Foundation to investigate new therapies for mitochondrial disease! It has been a very competitive process, in which only 8 projects were selected out over 150 proposals, so we have some cava in the fridge!

Our project will focus on studying the alterations that occur in a specific area of ​​the brain, the basal ganglia, in mitochondrial pathologies. We suspect that these alterations are caused by signals initiated in the mitochondria that drive cells to their death. Thanks to the funding from La Caixa Foundation (500,000 euros in 3 years), we will investigate how to reverse these signals and look for new therapies.


4th of July

What was last Saturday’s day number? Yes, it was the 4th of July. What happens on every 4th of July? Yes, we celebrate a BBQ to commemorate the United States’ Independence Declaration. O say, can you see by the dawn’s early light…  You can tell we miss Seattle 😀

We went to El Bosc Tancat, in Cerdanyola, with our cars full of hot dogs, burgers (+ veggie burgers), chorizo, chicken, omelettes, beers, and a bit of sadness, as it was Fab’s farewell as well.

Marco and Adan were the BBQ chefs, and Fab was in charge of them having enough drinks. They did an excellent job, as the food was de-li-ci-ous. Isabella brought this almost-non-alcoholic potion they drink in Serbia, rakija, to help the food disintegrate in the guts.

After the lunch, we gave Fab some presents, such as a magnific apron he is committed to wear every time he cooks Spanish food:

Then, some dared into the swimmingpool to have an afternoon bath and show how tanned they got during lock-down:

What a pleasure to be part of this group of amazing people! <3


We have been told about this great project, Mitowomen, which is a database to make the women working on mitochondria research more visible. The aim is to create a network for collaboration and to boost women representation on editorial boards, as keynote speakers in conferences, in invited special issues, as reviewers, on grant funding panels or as expert researchers for media consultation or interviews.
As it is such a great initiative, we wanted to share it with you! Check their website out and follow them on Twitter.


Emma is the first author of an article published in Nature Communications about the existing differences among neurons expressing dopamine D2 receptors in the striatum. It is an international collaboration in which Albert and Eli also participated.

The striatum is a brain region involved in motor control, habit formation, decision-making, motivation and reinforcement, among other aspects, and its disfunction has been associated with many neurological and psychiatric disorders. One of the most important neurotransmitters in the striatum is dopamine, which exerts different functions depending on the kind of receptor it binds to.

This study, which is an international collaboration, focused on D2 receptors, and showed that, contrary to paradigm, not all D2 neurons within the striatum have the same molecular identify or function, but that their neuro-anatomical localization is key.

Using cutting-edge technologies, they analyzed mouse models to see what genes are expressed in D2 neurons from the two main areas of the striatum: the ventral striatum, consisting mainly of the nucleus accumbens, and the dorsal striatum, and revealed overwhelming differences among them. Thus, depending on their precise anatomical location, they express different kinds of proteins, changing neurons’ features and functions.

They also focused on a group of neurons mainly located in the accumbens, which express the protein WFS1, and studied the effects of deleting their D2 receptors. What they observed was a significant reduction in digging, an innate behavior used in many species to seek or hoard food, as shelter, or to hide away from predators, whose underlying neuronal mechanisms were still unknown. Additionally, the authors found that these animals present an exacerbated hyperlocomotor response when their dopamine levels are increased through amphetamine administration, suggesting a key role of D2 receptors from WFS1 neurons in the response to psychostimulants.

Overall, this study demonstrates that there is a huge complexity and functional specificity among D2 neuron subpopulations, and reveals the possibility to manipulate them specifically to better understand their functions, in both physiological and pathological contexts.

We try to stay safe and help as much as we can!

These are difficult days all around the world. Here in Barcelona, the number of infected people is still increasing, with no prospects for improvement in the short term. Hospitals are facing a lack of human and material resources, hence our University made a call to gather protection and detection equipment. Among other material, they collected around 90000 gloves and 4000 masks. Great job!

In the Quintana lab we are trying to help as much as we can, donating protection equipment and loaning an extraction station to Parc Taulí Hospital. This machine is an automatic processor for obtaining nucleic acids, that can be used for the diagnose of CO-VID19.  Also, some people in the lab offered their hands to help doing PCR diagnosis if the Health Department needed it.

We stay at home, but try our best to continue with the scientific activity. Today we did our first long distance lab meeting, pyjamas allowed:

We hope everything will get better soon, and all of you will be okay!

Take care <3