Jean-Francois Poulin is an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University who joined The Neuro in 2019. His research was fundamental in establishing the molecular diversity of dopamine neurons.
What makes you excited about working at The Neuro?
The importance of The Neuro for neuroscience is just huge. I've studied Penfield's work when I was an undergrad and it's kind of cool to be working in the institute he actually founded. It’s also going to be great to be surrounded by colleagues who share my research interests.
What will be your research focus?
I'm working on dopaminergic neurons. We discovered several years ago that there were several types of the dopaminergic neurons. While these cells make up only .001 per cent of the human brain, they play a role in several neurological conditions. Parkinson's disease is caused by the reduction of dopamine release. But lots of psychiatric diseases are all associated with dopamine as well, like schizophrenia, depression, attention deficit disorder, and drug addiction.
I want to understand the circuits that those distinct types of dopaminergic neurons are connected with, and what other types of neurons are they interacting with, to have an idea of what those circuits are because that's completely misunderstood. We have no idea about the genetically defined circuits and how those actually form within the brain.
How can this translate to better treatments for patients?
That's the key. As soon as we identify the neurons that are involved in dysfunctional circuits that cause disease, we can determine the molecular signature. We can then, either using pharmacology or other approaches, actually modulate those circuits and alleviate the symptoms of some of those diseases.
You are originally from Quebec. What’s it like coming back to your home province?
I never lived in Montreal before and I’ve not spent much time here. I was amazed during the summer, just how lively the city was. All the festivals and the music. I quite enjoyed my summer. It feels really good. Although we had the winter in Chicago, we were missing something key which was mountains to go skiing, so I'm happy to come back to some of my favourite winter activities, like playing hockey and skiing.
So my research is focused on dopamine circuits and their implication in neurodevelopmental and neurogenerative disorders. We're focusing on dopamine neurons and trying to see how they are connected to other neurons in the brain.
The reason why we focus on the dopamine neurons is because those neurons are involved in Parkinson's disease and also a lot of of psychiatric disorders, drug abuse, depression, or schizophrenia.
Here, The Neuro gives us access to neurons that are grown from cells that just going to facilitate our research and as well finding new treatments or new avenues to treat those disorders.