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Berman, Burton Awarded Parkinson’s Funding

Sarah Berman, MD, PhD and Edward Burton, MD, DPhil, FRCP have received a two-year International Research Grant from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation to develop methods to study mitochondria in dopamine neurons — the cell type affected by Parkinson’s — in live zebrafish.  Mitochondria, important for providing energy and many other functions in cells, are particularly important in neurons, and dysfunctional mitochondria have been implicated in the neurodegeneration of Parkinson’s disease.  Mitochondria are difficult to study directly in living animals, but Drs. Burton and Berman are utilizing zebrafish, the fish equivalent of the lab mouse, but which are also transparent early in life. Using genetic tools to make the mitochondria in zebrafish fluorescent, the researchers will be able to record images of individual mitochondria as they move within the axons of dopamine neurons — a feat that has proven very difficult in the past. They will first examine mitochondrial movements in normal zebrafish, and then compare these to zebrafish with mutations in alpha-synuclein (a gene implicated in Parkinson’s), as well as zebrafish exposed to mitochondrial toxins. The researchers also will engineer zebrafish in which certain mitochondrial proteins can be tracked over a long period of time, and in which potential Parkinson’s therapies aimed at protecting mitochondria could be screened. (7/11)

Rock Heyman, MD

Sarah Berman, MD   Edward Burton, MD