Student working on a research project.

Axonal Transport And Neurodegenerative Disease

Within axons vital cargoes must be transported over great distances along microtubule tracks to maintain cell viability. In neuronal cells, many proteins function in sending and receiving messages, cell repair, and cell protection. The fundamental question my lab is interested in is whether long distance transport problems are an early precursor in neurodegenerative disease initiation, and if so do problems in transport initiate a "domino effect" that ultimately culminates in degenerative pathogenesis. The aging brain and pathology observed in Alzheimer's disease (AD), Huntington's disease (HD), prion disorders such as Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, Parkinson's disease and frontotemporal dementia, could have common molecular mechanisms. As the human brain ages, neurons may become vulnerable and susceptible to environmental/oxidative damage, leading to chronic nervous system damage. Mutations in the transport motor machinery were found to not only affect transport but could also cause degenerative pathology. Thus transport problems may be a common phenomenon that could propitiate dementia and degeneration. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying neuronal dysfunction is important not only in elucidating the mechanisms of disease initiation and the aging process, but also has long term implications for the development of neuroprotective treatments. The emerging hypothesis from our previous work on two human neurodegenerative diseases is that the transport pathway, which is vital for healthy cells, can be compromised during these devastating diseases. Using genetics, cell biology, biochemical, pharmacological and biophysical analysis combined with an in vivo microscopy technique, future work is focused on understanding the nature of these motor-disease protein complexes and how these complexes affect intracellular transport. We have two main areas of interest: 1: Identify molecules that modulate transport phenotypes induced by AD and HD proteins to elucidate what specific complexes/cargoes are being transported by these two motor-disease complexes. 2: Test small molecule compounds directed at known pathways to determine if the transport pathway can be useful as a therapeutic target.

Research Project Information

Disciplines: Biological Sciences, Neuroscience, Genetics
Student Skill-Set Needed: None, but motivation to be involved in scientific discovery and curiosity in the unknown.
Compensation: Academic Credit, Salary / Stipend, Volunteer, Work Study, salary opportunities depended on funding
Available: Fall, Summer


For further information on this opportunity, or to apply, contact:

Faculty Member: Shermali Gunawardena
Department: Biological Sciences
Office: Cooke Hall Rm 333
Phone: (645)236-3105