Novel views on brainstem structures and their functions and implications in neurodegenerative diseases

Harry W.M. Steinbusch
Maastricht University
Dec 1. 09:05~09:55


Despite the fundamental role of the brainstem in regulating vital functional abilities such as arousal, breathing, autonomic nervous system activity as well as regulating all higher cerebral functions via neurotransmitter projections systems originating in the brainstem, the role of the brainstem has received relatively little attention in most neuropsychiatric disorders. Besides the dorsal and median raphe nuclei complex comprising mainly serotonin-producing neurons, the brainstem also contains noradrenalin, dopamine and histamine-producing nuclei, i.e. resp. the locus coeruleus, the substantia nigra and the mamillary bodies. Most of the focus on neurobiological questions on above mentioned disease are related to forebrain structures since they are often associated with cognitive dysfunction. The brainstem is a highly neglected brain area in neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s (AD) and Parkinson’s (PD) disease and frontotemporal lobar degeneration. In the area of depression, several observations have been made in relation to changes in one particular brain structure: the Dorsal Raphe Nucleus (DRN). In addition dysfunction of the cerebellum is also observed in AD and associated with pulmonary deregulation. The DRN is also related in the circuit of stress regulated processes and cognitive events. The ascending projections and multitransmitter nature of the DRN in particular and the brainstem in general stress its role as a key target for AD/PD research and autonomic dysfunction. It also points towards the increased importance and focus of the brainstem as key area in various neurodevelopmental and age-related diseases. The current presentation aims to review the neuroanatomy of the brainstem as well as the current status on findings, derived from a wide range of studies using molecular, cellular and imaging technologies, of brainstem involvement in neurodevelopmental (i.e. autism, schizophrenia) and neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease).


Professional Career

  • 2012-2016, Guest Professor Neuroscience, Internationalization, University Hasselt, Belgium
  • 2003-2016, Director of the Maastricht School for Mental Health and Neuroscience, Maastricht, Netherlands
  • 1996, Visiting professor in the department of anatomy and neurobiology at the Dalhousie University, Canada
  • 1995-Present, Director and founder of the European Graduate School of Neuroscience (EURON), a consortium of neuroscience departments in eleven universities in Belgium, France, Germany, and Netherlands
  • 1992-Present, Editor-in-Chief and founder of the Journal of CHEMICAL NEUROANATOMY
  • 1982, PostDoc in the department of neuroscience at the Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 1982-1986, Visiting scientist in the Wallenberg Neuroscience Center at the Lund University, Lund, Sweden