Neuroplasticity during healthy ageing and ageing-related diseases
We are interested in how the brain changes during healthy ageing and in the context of ageing-related diseases. We use a combination of mechanistic laboratory work and population studies to examine risk factors for healthy ageing.
We have worked together with the United Nations Population Fund in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and several others across the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region to examine risk factors for healthy ageing in the brain. Our recent work has focused on the importance of social interactions and identified key risk factors for loneliness across the older population in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, including a lack of support for day-to-day tasks for older people, mental health, and social confidence. Our work focuses on gender differences during ageing and how women are differentially affected. This work has been featured in several countries’ strategies for Healthy Ageing and we are working to develop interventions to help reduce loneliness in this cohort (see Keck, 2020; Keck, 2022).
We also do complementary mechanistic work examining the role of different types of neuroplasticity in ageing brain in health and disease, specifically focusing on mechanisms of homeostatic plasticity. We use a combination of functional and structural imaging to determine the synaptic and cellular changes that follow a loss of sensory input to both excitatory and inhibitory cells. We are interested in the spatial scales of homeostatic plasticity and how activity is modulated at the level of individual synapses, dendritic branches, cells and networks of cells, as well as the functional consequences of this modulation for the network and behavior. We examine the role of this form of plasticity in healthy adult brains, as well as during neurodegenerative diseases associated with ageing, particularly dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (see Barnes et al., 2015; Barnes et al., 2017; Barnes et al, submitted). We use our knowledge of plasticity mechanisms to then inform our approaches in population studies.
Neuroplasticity and mental health support following extremely stressful events
We also work with the United Nations Population Fund in Bangladesh to develop neuroplasticity based mental health support for survivors of gender-based violence (GBV). We are testing the role of education about neuroplasticity and memory formation in improving mental health outcomes for GBV survivors, as well as developing community-based mental health and psychosocial support that features neuroplasticity in recovery from traumatic memory. We are expanding these approaches to develop neuroplasticity-led community-based and peer-to-peer mental health support for younger people, including university students, who have increased mental health issues following from the COVID-19 pandemic (see Keck, 2019; Keck and Izutsu, 2020; Izutsu and Keck, 2022).