Eero Castrén and Sari Lauri appointed as research directors for Neuroscience Center

Docent Sari Lauri will start in her new position in August 2021 and Academy Professor Eero Castrén will start at the beginning of 2022.

The HiLIFE board has appointed two new research directors for Neuroscience Center (NC).

Docent Sari Lauri has been appointed for a five-year term as research director of the in vivo rodent imaging and electrophysiology core facility. Academy Professor Eero Castrén will take up his new appointment in the new UHBrain profiling area, which will include the position of research director in neuronal plasticity.

Sari Lauri came to Neuroscience Center in 2007 and was group leader for eight years. Currently, she is an associate research director at NC. She is also a principal investigator and university lecturer in the Molecular and Integrative Biosciences Programme of the University of Helsinki. Her research group Synaptic plasticity and development studies the development of glutamatergic circuitry in the limbic system and especially the role of ionotropic glutamate receptors in the process.

Eero Castrén has been a member of Neuroscience Center since its foundation in 2003. From 2013 to 2017, Castrén worked as a director of NC. Currently he is working at NC as an Academy Professor. Castrén’s research has focused on neurotrophic factors and the action of antidepressants: his group Neuroplasticity and neurotrophic factors studies the role of neurotrophic factors in the mechanisms of antidepressants, particularly Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and its receptor TRKB.

Eero and Sari, tell us about your new appointments – what will you be focusing on as research directors?

Eero: My lab will continue to investigate neurotrophic factors and the mechanisms of neuronal plasticity.  We will specifically focus on drugs that directly bind to neurotrophic receptors and activate their signalling – we have recently discovered that antidepressant drugs act in this way. I am very grateful that we can continue our work at Neuroscience Center, as my term as an Academy Professor is coming to an end.

Sari: Our current research mainly focuses on understanding how developmental plasticity mechanisms contribute to network functions underlying normal and aberrant behaviour, particularly related to developmentally originating neuropsychiatric disorders and early life stress. We are now expanding our analysis to neuronal networks in behaving animals. I believe that this appointment to the in vivo unit will greatly facilitate this line of research. I’m also looking forward to the possibility of interacting with other members of the unit and of exploring possibilities for translational collaborative research.

Share one important research question with us – what do you want to find an answer to in your research?

Sari: We aim to identify how limbic microcircuits are affected by early life stress, predisposing individuals to neuropsychiatric disorders later on in life. Further, we aim to test whether the function of these networks can be normalised by targeted manipulation of kainate receptors, a unique family of glutamate receptors involved in development and plasticity of neuronal connectivity.

Eero: It would be great to discover a drug that binds to neurotrophin receptors with high affinity: this drug could have potential in the treatment of several brain disorders. We have the tools for this, so it may be a realistic prospect.