Translational implications of the anatomical nonequivalence of functionally equivalent cholinergic circuit motifs

Anita A. Disney, Jason S. Robert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Biomedical research is at a critical juncture, with an aging population increasingly beset by chronic illness and prominent failures to translate research from "bench to bedside." These challenges emerge on a background of increasing "silo-ing" of experiments (and experimenters)- many investigators produce and consume research conducted in 1, perhaps 2, species-and increasing pressure to reduce or eliminate research on so-called "higher" mammals. Such decisions to restrict species diversity in biomedical research have not been datadriven and increase the risk of translational failure. To illustrate this problem, we present a case study from neuroscience: Cholinergic suppression in the cortex. In all mammals studied so far, acetylcholine reduces activity in some cortical neurons. Comparative anatomical studies have shown that the mechanism behind this suppression differs between species in a manner that would render drug treatments developed in nonprimate species entirely ineffective if applied to primates (including humans). Developing clinical interventions from basic research will always require translation, either between species (e.g., using a mouse model of a human disease) or within a species (using a subset of humans as a representative sample for all humans). We argue that successful translation will require that we 1) be data-driven in our selection of species for study; 2) use (with careful attention to welfare) animals that minimize the translation gap to humans; and 3) become agile at translation, by resisting the pressures to narrow our focus to a small number of organisms, instead using species diversity as an opportunity to practice translation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26181-26186
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number52
StatePublished - Dec 26 2019


  • Animal research
  • Bioethics
  • Comparative
  • Neuroscience
  • Systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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