Four researchers from the Bordeaux campus awarded an ERC grant of €10M

A first for Bordeaux's scientific community - four researchers from three laboratories on the Bordeaux campus have been awarded a single ERC (European Research Council) Synergy grant. Worth €10 million over a 6-year period, this prestigious grant underlines the strong interaction between the fields of neuroscience and photonics in Bordeaux.

  • 12/11/2020

De gauche à droite : Valentin Nägerl, Erwan Bezard, Laurent Cognet et Laurent Groc © Arnaud Rodriguez - université de Bordeaux De gauche à droite : Valentin Nägerl, Erwan Bezard, Laurent Cognet et Laurent Groc © Arnaud Rodriguez - université de Bordeaux

Laurent Groc, Director of Research (CNRS) with IINS*, Erwan Bézard, Director of Research (Inserm) with IMN**, Laurent Cognet, Director of Research (CNRS) with LP2N***, and Valentin Nägerl, Professor at the University of Bordeaux with IINS* have been awarded a prestigious ERC Synergy grant 2020. ERC Synergy grants are characterized by the fact that they unite two to four scientists with a view to pooling expertise and resources for the benefit of a major, cutting-edge multidisciplinary scientific project. Since the program was established in 2012 it is only the fifth grant awarded solely to French scientists.

The ambitious and innovative ENSEMBLE ("Together") project is based on the development of new high-resolution microscopy approaches that benefit a new conceptual framework of cerebral communication. The objective of the project is to understand the brain function by deciphering how its extracellular environment controls communication between cells in a physiological context and in neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders.

A clear collective step forward in understanding the brain function

Understanding the brain function is a major societal issue both in terms of general knowledge of this complicated organ, and in terms of the ability to combat and treat neurological and psychiatric disorders. The ENSEMBLE project is fully in line with these priority issues for Europe. The comprehension of the intracellular life of brain cells, such as neurons, has expanded to an amazing degree in recent decades, paving the way for example for neural network activity manipulations. However, at the heart of the activity of a neural network lies the transfer of information from one cell to another via the extracellular medium; unfortunately, this process remains poorly understood. The comprehension of this terra incognita, where all the information molecules in the brain travel, is still very limited due to a lack of technology enabling its study in living conditions.

Combining nanoscience, bio-imaging, and super-resolution microscopy to decipher the brain

Laurent Cognet's laboratory, LP2N, is specialized in nanoscience and bio-imaging, with international expertise and pioneering discoveries in the detection of individual molecules and nanoparticles imaged using custom-built optical microscopes. Such microscopes combine extremely high sensitivities with unsurpassed resolutions (nanometric). In this ERC Synergy project, the development of innovative microscopes and nanoparticles will make it possible to image and analyze the movement of individual molecules deep in the brain core, revealing how varied biological molecules can move in such a maze.

This major technological breakthrough will be completed by Valentin Nägerl's IINS laboratory. With world-leading expertise in super-resolution microscopy and neutral plasticity, its role in the Synergy project will be to build a high-power "super-resolution" microscope which will create the first extremely detailed anatomical map of the cerebral extracellular space on a nanometric scale. Knowledge of this architecture, combined with detection of individual molecules, in Laurent Cognet's laboratory, will shed light on the rules governing molecular dynamics between brain cells and around the centers of brain communication, the synapses.

Combatting neurological and psychiatric disorders requires a detailed understanding of the molecular disturbances involved, and the development of innovative therapeutic strategies, such as immunotherapy. The objective of the ENSEMBLE project will be to decipher the dynamics of extracellular molecules associated with neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, along with molecules for therapeutic use.

Erwan Bézard's laboratory, IMN, is an international leader in translational research on human neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. The laboratory's role in the project will consist in understanding why and how the characteristics of the cerebral extracellular space promote pathological configurations and the propagation of toxic proteins underpinning these two major neurological disorders. Models on rodents and primates will be developed to help transfer this knowledge to human clinical practice.

Laurent Groc's laboratory, IINS, a world leader in the field of molecular neuroscience and immuno-psychiatry, will tackle deciphering the cerebral biodynamics of molecules which play a key role in our defense, but which unfortunately sometimes cause autoimmune diseases, immunoglobulins. By combining innovations in the field of microscopy, the ENSEMBLE project will lay the foundations for a molecular understanding of cerebral distribution and pathogenicity of autoantibodies associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. This knowledge will also help understand and therefore optimize the efficacy of therapeutic immunoglobulins, which currently represent our strongest hope for treating brain disorders.

* IINS: Institute for Interdisciplinary Neuroscience (CNRS and University of Bordeaux - Bordeaux Neurocampus)

**IMN: Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases (CNRS and University of Bordeaux - Bordeaux Neurocampus)

***LP2N: Photonics, Numerical and Nanosciences Laboratory (CNRS, Institute of Optics Graduate School and University of Bordeaux)

Bordeaux-based archeology project also rewarded

The QUANTA project proposed by four international scientists, including Francesco d’Errico, CNRS researcher with the Pacea laboratory (From Prehistory to Modern Times: Culture, Environment and Anthropology - CNRS, French Ministry of Culture and University of Bordeaux), has also been awarded an ERC Synergy grant 2020. The objective of this project, which has been awarded a €10 million grant, is to study the origin and evolution of the cognitive skills enabling our species to quantify with precision.

It will adopt a hitherto untried interdisciplinary approach which will combine (i) archeological, ethnographic and linguistic data on numerical systems from all over the world; (ii) a cognitive framework to help formulate evolutionary hypotheses based on the properties of the systems; (iii) high-performance phylogenetic computing methods to test these hypotheses and thereby reconstruct cultural evolution, and (iv) innovative resources to extend the temporal scope of these methods substantially in the past, with a view to including the first confirmed cases of quantification.

The project brings together three researchers affiliated with three European research institutions and one American university: Francesco d’Errico, Andrea Bender, Professor with the Department of Psychosocial Science of the University of Bergen (Norway), Russel Gray, Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Leipzig (Germany), and Raphael Nùñez, Professor with the Department of Cognitive Science of the University of California in San Diego (United States).

Scientific contacts

Valentin Nägerl
Professor / University of Bordeaux - IINS

Erwan Bézard
Director of Research (Inserm) - IMN

Laurent Cognet
Director of Research (CNRS) - LP2N

Laurent Groc
Director of Research (CNRS) - IINS

Press contact

Hélène Katz