Botox, used by Hollywood stars to smooth out facial wrinkles, isplaying an important role in University of Queensland research tounderstand how nerve cells communicate with each other.
The research is exploring basic nerve cell function, minute changeswhich underlie memory and learning, and possible causes of nervediseases.
Dr Frederic Meunier, a lecturer in UQ's School of BiomedicalSciences, is studying basic physiological processes at the molecularlevel.
Dr Meunier is one of seven UQ finalists in the 2005 UQFoundation Research Excellence Awards to be announced on September 22as a highlight of UQ Research Week 2005.
As one research strategy, he is taking advantage of theexquisite selectivity of powerful nerve toxins such as botox orglycerotoxin to selectively dissect basic nerve cell (neuronal)processes in Australian Research Council funded research.
"Botox is the most potent neurotoxin currently known," Dr Meunier said.
"It derives from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism (food poisoning).
"However, botox is increasingly used in human therapy to treatsuch conditions as strabismus (cross-eyes), voice, head and limbtremor, spasticity, stuttering, involuntary movements such as tics, andfor painful rigidity.
"I have been using different types of toxins to explore theinterplay of proteins and lipids (fats) when nerve cells communicatevia the release of neurotransmitters in a process called vesicularexocytosis."
Neurotransmitters transmit nerve impulses across chemicalsynapses, which are regions where one nerve cell makes functionalcontact with each other.
Dr Meunier and his colleagues have discovered thatbotox-intoxicated nerve cells do not die. They start to emit littlesprouts which ultimately allow recovery of the nerve cell.
His current project aims to understand the role played by anintriguing family of phosphate-containing fats, calledphosphoinositides in the build up to molecular events leading toexocytosis.
In Australian Research Council funded research, Dr Meunier hasrecently discovered an unexpected role for a member of thephosphoinositide family in priming neurotransmitter-containing vesicles-- a crucial event in the build up of molecular events leading to therelease of the neurotransmitter outside the nerve cell.
The study has been recently published in a prestigious international journal Molecular Biology of the Cell.
"This has given us a novel angle from which to approach thisprocess and we are using the same strategy to examine the role playedby PolyUnsaturated Fatty Acid in molecular mechanism of neuronalcommunication in NH&MRC funded research.," he said.
"There is no doubt that understanding this process will leadto novel research to tackle neuronal diseases such as Parkinson's andAlzheimer's disease.
"It could also be important for future treatment of mentalconditions such as depression, which is becoming a national problem dueto ageing and stress of the Australian population.
"Furthermore this work will be important for reinforcingAustralia's role at the forefront of neurobiology and signallingresearch."
Dr Meunier, whose PhD thesis at Paris University concentratedon nerve cell communication, furthered his interests in the fieldduring postdoctoral studies at Imperial College, London on synapticresearch, and on phosphate-containing lipids in cancer research at theMedical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge,an institute which has produced more than 13 Nobel Prize winners.
He joined UQ two years ago after a chance meeting withProfessor David Adams of UQ's School of Biomedical Sciences at aninternational conference.
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