Epigenetics in BRAI.NS 2014: a conference report

A Guest blog by Dr Roberto C. Agis-Balboa, IBIV-Institute of Biomedical Research of Vigo (Project BIOCAPS), Spain

I had the pleasure to attend the BRAI.NS 2014 meeting celebrated on February 14-15 (2014) in Barcelona, 100 years after some of the Ramon y Cajal´s pioneering work and coinciding with the Year of the Brain in Europe. It was a tremendous success supported by Novartis. Two exceptional Co-Chairs, Prof. Xavier Montalban and Prof. Alan Thompson, welcome and help to meet the objectives and agenda to ≈500 Multiple Sclerosis (MS) experts from across nations. MS is a chronic demyelinating disease of the central nervous system categorized by loss of motor and sensory function that results from immune-mediated inflammation, demyelination and axonal loss and gliosis in the brain and spinal cord (1). MS is one of the most common causes of neurological disability in young adults.

The format of the meeting was very innovative and the organization excellent. In brief, first, speakers such as Octavio Quintana Trias (European Commission), Sean Hill (The Human Brain Project), Mary Baker (European Brain Council),…, discussed the “International and European research initiatives in neuroscience, innovative technologies and MS research”. Second, a long list of world-wide recognized experts in MS presented the “Advances in molecular and systems neurobiology and their applicability/insights for MS” touching four research areas: 1) neurogenetics and biological markers, 2) cognitive neuroscience, 3) neurobiology and immunology and 4) structural, molecular and functional imaging. Third, several experts addressed the “Hot topics in MS” such as Biomarkers in MS, disease progression, socio-economic impact and disease management and patient/carer perspective. The last speech was very touching and given by John Golding, MS patient and President of the European MS Platform, and his wife Elizabeth. Fourth, workshops where all MS experts were divided according “research area working groups” based on the four topics mentioned above. Here, we discussed and selected the most important “MS research areas and societal challenges” for next few years. The BRAI.NS 2014 was the first (but probably not the last) BRAI.NS meeting. In general, it was a really enriching and highly recommended experience.

Interesting, but not surprising, most of the participants in BRAI.NS 2014 agreed that one of the main MS research topics where research funds must be invested during the next few years is the understanding of the genome-environment interactions in MS. Epigenetic changes have been associated to autoimmune diseases such as MS. Thus, DNA methylation, histone modifications and non-coding RNAs are among the mechanisms altered during MS (2-4). The epigenetic research is more advanced in cancer and neurodegeneration where the use of epigenetic drugs (HDAC inhibitors, miRNAs,…) has emerged as a promising therapeutic approach in the future (5, 6). In this context, the MS community also recognizes that epigenetics could be helpful to prevent, diagnose and treat MS (7, 8). As such, the use of next-generation sequencing techniques are helping us to understand complex neurological diseases such as MS (9). The understanding of epigenetics in MS will help to develop more effective and personalized treatments for such a devastating disease. If you want to know more about BRAI.NS, European Research Initiatives or about MS, please check some of the links to webpages added below:

Links of interest


1.         E. Ellwardt, F. Zipp, Molecular mechanisms linking neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration in MS. Exp Neurol,  (Feb 14, 2014).

2.         F. Meda, M. Folci, A. Baccarelli, C. Selmi, The epigenetics of autoimmunity. Cellular & molecular immunology 8, 226 (May, 2011).

3.         M. W. Koch, L. M. Metz, O. Kovalchuk, Epigenetics and miRNAs in the diagnosis and treatment of multiple sclerosis. Trends Mol Med 19, 23 (Jan, 2013).

4.         C. A. Tegla et al., SIRT1 is decreased during relapses in patients with multiple sclerosis. Experimental and molecular pathology 96, 139 (Jan 5, 2014).

5.         A. Fischer, Targeting histone-modifications in Alzheimer’s disease. What is the evidence that this is a promising therapeutic avenue? Neuropharmacology,  (Jan 31, 2014).

6.         M. Berdasco, M. Esteller, Aberrant epigenetic landscape in cancer: how cellular identity goes awry. Dev Cell 19, 698 (Nov 16, 2010).

7.         M. Comabella, X. Montalban, Body fluid biomarkers in multiple sclerosis. Lancet Neurol 13, 113 (Jan, 2014).

8.         A. Kaliszewska, P. L. De Jager, Exploring the role of the epigenome in multiple sclerosis: a window onto cell-specific transcriptional potential. J Neuroimmunol 248, 2 (Jul 15, 2012).

9.         A. E. Handel, G. Disanto, S. V. Ramagopalan, Next-generation sequencing in understanding complex neurological disease. Expert Rev Neurother 13, 215 (Feb, 2013).


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