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Areas of investigation/research focus

Dementing diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and prion diseases have in common that naturally occurring proteins of the nervous system misfold and accumulate in the brains of patients, eventually leading to neuronal degeneration and death. It is not clear why these proteins misfold and accumulate in the brain, why neurons die in the presence of protein aggregates, nor how this could be prevented. Using cell culture and disease models, we seek to understand the underlying mechanisms that lead to protein misfolding in the brain and the ensuing neuropathology. In contrast to AD and PD, prions accumulate very rapidly in the brains of patients once clinical symptoms show. Thus cell and disease models of prion disease are very useful to study protein misfolding, the ‘invasive’ nature of aberrantly folded proteins, and their toxic effect on neurons and neuronal plasticity.

Our goals are

  • to identify early pathologic processes in the brain that cause protein misfolding and neuronal loss
  • to discover early markers that signal these pathological changes
  • to develop therapeutic interventions that prevent protein misfolding and neuronal loss