Gunawardena is an expert in axonal transport. This involves the movement of motor proteins along neurons' thread-like axon. These molecular motors, called kinesins and dyneins, carry "cargo" including vital proteins to and from the synapse and cell body of neurons.
In this neuronal highway system, one problem that can occur is an axonal blockage, which resembles a traffic jam in neurons. Proteins aggregate in a clump along the axon. (For videos showing both a normal axonal pathway and a blocked pathway, visit http://biology.buffalo.edu/Faculty/Gunawardena/gunawardena_lab/research.html.)
Researchers don't know whether these obstructions contribute to disorders such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's diseases, which are characterized by unusual build-ups of proteins called amyloids and Lewy bodies.
But the amyloid precursor protein involved in Alzheimer's disease has been shown to have a role in axonal transport, and if axonal obstructions do turn out to be an early indicator for neurodegeneration seen in Alzheimer's disease, eliminating blockages could help prevent or delay the onset of disease.
That's where ORMOSIL comes in: Gunawardena hopes to use these nanoparticles to target drugs to protein jams along axons, breaking up the accumulations.
Success, if possible, is still a long way off. But the potential benefit is great. Gunawardena calls the research a "high-risk, high-rewards" endeavor.
The next step is for her team to see if they can find a way to force the ORMOSIL to latch onto motor proteins. (The nanoparticles, on their own, do not move along axons.)
|Contact: Charlotte Hsu|
University at Buffalo