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Research at SIU School of Medicine

New Connections
Dr. Carl Faingold’s text takes a new view of brain networks and CNS disorders

For breathing, hearing, sight and many other functions, our brain plays an important role in managing most of our body’s systems. The question of how these systems work together has been asked for centuries. Carl Faingold, PhD, professor and chair of pharmacology, has edited a textbook that puts forth new and forward-thinking ideas to explain the operation of the billions of brain cells and the trillions of synapses that connect them. Hal Blumenfeld, MD, PhD, Yale University School of Medicine, co-edited the volume.

"We understand about 5 percent of how the brain works," Dr. Faingold says. "There’s a lot of work to do to understand what some people call the most complicated thing in the universe: your brain."

Dr. Feingold

While many researchers focus their research on understanding one system of networks, such as hearing, breathing or sleep, Dr. Faingold takes a different perspective: emphasizing the interactions between the networks and how those network interactions change with central nervous system (CNS) disorders. "This is the cutting edge of neuroscience," Dr. Faingold says. "These ideas are new and not yet widely understood." CNS disorders include Alzheimer’s disease, depression, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, to name a few. Dr. Faingold’s four decades of research have focused on epilepsy.

The nearly 500-page compendium, Neuronal Networks in Brain Function, CNS Disorders, and Therapeutics is a collection of research by scientists from nine countries. Containing 33 chapters, (11 of which Dr. Faingold had major input) the text includes chapters by SIU School of Medicine faculty Carol Bauer, MD, PhD, Thomas Brozoski, PhD, and Shelley Tishkau, PhD.

Among the revolutionary ideas the text presents is how drugs affect the brain. "Most researchers think that CNS medications will target only one area of the brain. But our research has shown that large doses of drugs affect many of the elements in the brain. Therapeutic doses of most CNS drug don’t have a general effect; it’s a more specific effect on emergent properties that are created by all these influences working together on specific groups of brain cells in a specific network. That’s light years ahead of what most scientists are currently thinking." Dr. Faingold advocates more targeted use of pharmaceuticals to treat disease, based on network effects.

A related idea is how the brain networks react to stimulation therapies such as acupuncture and deep brain stimulation. Dr. Faingold has published studies advocating better integration of drug and stimulation therapies along with new brain imaging methods. "This integrated approach of our current knowledge may be the best way to advance treatment of CNS disorders in the near future."

Reviewers of the book have noted that the concept of emergent properties in the brain’s physiology is of great significance. Emergent properties refer to unexpected brain events that occur because of the self-organization of neuronal networks. Dr. Faingold’s research attempts to develop a clearer understanding of these network functions and how they become dysfunctional in CNS disorders.

"The sooner we understand how networks talk to one another, the sooner we can improve treatments for the brain disorders and improve the lives of patients." - Dr. Faingold

"If we knew the emergent properties of the neuronal networks involved in CNS disorders, we could greatly improve drug therapies," Dr. Faingold says.

"This book contains a blueprint for how research can move forward," he says. Combining research from the various research "silos" - as Dr. Faingold has done with this volume - can boost the knowledge base for neurological research.

Physicians may be able to enhance a failing network in the brain to prevent further aggravation of the disease. "We know things now that if put together properly would enhance therapy of the whole range of CNS disorders."

For example, possible clinical applications could include Alzheimer’s disease therapies, in which a malfunctioning area of the brain could be enhanced with therapeutic doses of medicine along with stimulation, without affecting other brain networks.

"Most researchers work in network silos - narrow areas of brain function like vision or breathing. But we can’t wait until we know everything in each silo to begin putting them together," Dr. Faingold stresses. "The sooner we understand how networks talk to one another, the sooner we can improve treatments for the brain disorders and improve the lives of patients."

The mission of Southern Illinois Univeristy School of Medicine is to assist the citizens of central and southern Illinois in meeting their health-care needs through education, patient care, research and service to the community.

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