Defining and discussing state-of-the-art concepts in organismal physiology

The 3rd FEBS Advanced Course “Molecular mechanisms of interorgan crosstalk in health and disease” (9–17 May 2024, Spetses Island, Greece), brought together researchers across all career stages to discuss and better understand biological systems in the context of their environment.
Defining and discussing state-of-the-art concepts in organismal physiology
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Context, localization, attendees, lecturers

The third edition of the FEBS Advanced Course “Molecular mechanisms of interorgan crosstalk in health and disease” took place from 9–17 May 2024 on the beautiful island of Spetses, in Greece, organized by Drs. Andreas Herrlich, Eirini Kefalogianni, and François Leulier. Huge thanks to all of them for this wonderful meeting, and warm thanks to Olga Litou, the conference administrator from Athens for all her help.

The environment where this course took place was incredible: enjoying the breathtaking view of the sea and breathing the fresh air of Spetses during the long-lasting days of late spring.

From the X account of one of the course organisers.

The attendees hailed from all across Europe and the United States, ranging from early career PhD candidates to advanced postdocs. This Advanced Course featured a diverse group of astonishing faculty, including brilliant young group leaders and well-established senior researchers. Reflecting the multifaceted nature of organismal physiology, the course covered a wide array of topics unified by a central focus: understanding biological systems in the context of their environment. Nearly all fields of physiology were represented, fostering cross-disciplinary exchange and collaboration.

Homeostasis as the new dynamic state influenced by the environment

The course dived deep into the molecular mechanisms underlying interorgan crosstalk during health and disease. “Interorgan crosstalk” underpins systemic physiology, and provides the prism through which all lectures were delivered: a biological system – be it a cell within a tissue, a tumor within an organ, or an organ within a functional network – is inherently functioning and reacting to challenges within its given environment, ultimately operating as part of a larger whole.

From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.

What we usually hear about when learning about physiology is mechanisms that maintain the basal state, homeostasis, but we know less about pathological dysregulation of this state in disease. This summer school was fascinating as we had the opportunity to discuss and challenge the historic notions of homeostasis control, conceptualizing a new mechanistic understanding of the control of organismal physiology in health and in disease. This course emphasized that biology is not static, and the seemingly static basal state is the result of continuous interorgan communications, while regulation at the system level is required for proper organ function. This common agreement about the plasticity of homeostasis was scientifically striking, reflecting a paradigm shift on how we perceive and study biological systems.

Understanding mechanisms: models, genetics, technologies, microbes

The Advanced Lecture Course fostered an environment where participants could engage with cutting-edge research and explore the dynamic nature of physiology. The faculty talks, besides being rich in concepts, also discussed cutting-edge tools and methodologies that can be used to study physiological phenomena and how organisms function in health and disease.

A first notable addition to this course was the introduction of diverse model organisms, each offering unique advantages for investigating specific biological processes. Participants had the opportunity to learn about the versatility of drosophila, zebrafish, chicken, and mouse models, each of which have proven invaluable in advancing our understanding of organismal physiology.

From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.

Secondly, the course highlighted the widespread use of genetic tools, in mouse models and beyond, to study interorgan communication. These tools encompass a diverse range of techniques, from organelle labeling and inducible reporter systems for neuronal lineage tracing, to various knockout strategies. Such genetic approaches have been fundamental to dissect the intricate networks and signaling pathways that govern interorgan crosstalk, enabling researchers to reach unprecedented precision.

From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.

A fascinating aspect of the course was the discussion of the role of microbiota by various invited speakers. Living organisms coexist and have coevolved with microbes, making the study of microbiota highly relevant when deciphering physiology based on biological systems that interact with their environment. To date, the mechanisms involved are mostly unknown, and causalities are just starting to be established.

From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.
From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.
From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.

The functional relevance of host-microbe or host-pathogen interactions is fundamentally more important than how it was historically perceived. Some physiological processes could be an evolutionary response to provide resistance to specific pathogen infections. This perspective emerged from discussions recognizing that these responses result in surprising fitness costs, but also gains for the organism in the context of tolerance to infection. These biological concepts can provide broader insights into deciphering both steady-state physiology and disease.

From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.

Discussing and networking: the social core

This FEBS course is completely shaped around exchanges, both scientific and human. Each lecture of the course was associated with a questions and answers session, fostering discussions between students and faculty members. The poster sessions organized for the attendees were really valuable, allowing personalized interactions and feedback on current work.

From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.

An additional great opportunity to present ongoing work and receive invaluable feedback were the selected student poster talks. Being able to present our work really broadened the perspectives of our projects, shedding light on unexpected new questions. Science sharing was of amazing quality from everyone: congratulations again for the outstanding contributions of our poster and talk award winners!

From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.
From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account, and a course attendee's account.

The course featured Tutorial sessions that facilitated discussions even more. They provided a unique opportunity for attendees to engage with one faculty member and a few students, where the students would lead the discussions.

Tutorials were the opportunity to have personalized feedback on scientific projects, allowing to delve into deeper discussions after the talks, but they were also the opportunity to discuss broadly about science. A lot of the faculty actually gave both career and life advice, sharing their unique experience in science, and simply talking about their path, the choices they made, and what they want to do as scientists in the future.

From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.

The dinners where probably the culminative part of interactions during the course. They were organized in a way that brought small groups of students and faculty together, while visiting amazing restaurants of Spetses island (gastronomy is indeed also a part of the experience). What was remarkable about those dinners was the opportunity to freely discuss with everyone. While scientific topics were certainly explored, the conversations also delved into broader aspects about life. This inspired the feeling we all had at the end of this lecture course: we were not only bound into a scientific network but also connected on a human level, and this feeling of community seemed equally important to the science itself, as discussed at this course. A feeling of community we were all grateful for and will definitely remember!

From FEBS_InterOrgan, this Advanced Course's X account.

For more information on Advanced Courses, visit the FEBS website. The next application dealine is 1 September 2024.


All images are screengrabs from X/Twitter from course attendees and organisers.

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