"The larger the brain, the greater the intelligence and the capacity for communication"

Monday, January 21, 2019

The study of the brain and the way it works is becoming increasingly accessible as technology progresses and new tools are developed in the fields of neurology and psychiatry, among other sciences. The second edition of CNS Exeltis Day was organised with a view to pooling the wealth of existing knowledge on the brain and sharing both common and differential elements of neurology and psychiatry.

At this top-level scientific event, held on 18 and 19 January in Madrid, the Central Nervous System Unit of the Spanish multinational Exeltis brought together over 330 experts in psychiatry and neurology. The attendees debated the 25 presentations given with a view to helping to build a realistic model for the functioning of the brain and to take an integrated, united stance on patient treatment.

"The bigger the brain, the greater the intelligence. And the greater the intelligence, the greater the capacity for communication," said Professor Juan Luis Arsuaga, a lecturer in Palaeontology and co-director of Atapuerca. Professor Arsuaga gave an historical overview outlining the evolution of capacities that gave rise to the modern human species. A journey through the various stages of evolution, with an increase in brain size, the modification of facial features to allow for communication and the emergence of language and the symbolic mind, among many other features.

The role of the brain and language in the evolution of the human being is one of the issues that were debated at the event. The attendees also discussed clinical challenges such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, depression and neurodegenerative diseases, and tackled issues like delusions and hallucinations, manifestations of frontotemporal dementia, the use of deep brain stimulation techniques and the application of new technologies to studying the brain. 

Dr Javier DeFelipe, a Professor of Research at the Spanish Research Council, CSIC (The Cajal Institute), gave a talk on the Human Brain Project (HBP) and the Cajal Blue Brain Project. Dr DeFelipe is one of the leading scientists on the HBP and the Director of the Cajal Blue Brain Project. The HBP is an international research initiative through which over 1,000 scientists are striving to enhance our knowledge of the brain using an interdisciplinary approach and IT tools that allow for simulation of the human brain.

The key objective of the Cajal Blue Brain Project is the study of the cerebral cortex. This area of study represents one of the greatest scientific challenges of the centuries ahead, as the activity of the cerebral cortex is linked to the capacities that distinguish humans from other mammals. DeFelipe explained that recently, some of the researchers are applying the IT and microanatomy advances developed in this project to an in-depth study of the alterations to cortical circuits (which are key to mental activity) that take place in Alzheimer’s disease.

To undertake these tasks, a multidisciplinary team is crucial; as Dr DeFelipe explains: “The idea is to understand the connectivity and the design of the brain based on models and simulations developed through the use of new technologies. To interpret the data we need IT engineers, mathematicians and physicists. Essentially, a cooperation network that allows us to advance far more quickly in the study of the brain.”

As well as the group sessions, parallel discussions were also organised on specific areas of neurology and psychiatry, covering topics ranging from more common conditions like headaches to progressive supranuclear palsy, a less frequent brain disorder which is progressive and highly debilitating. Other issues were also tackled, such as differential patterns of antidepressants in suicidal behaviour and more innovative themes, like the role of glutamate in psychiatry.