Ph. D., Thomas Jefferson University, 2005
Research Assistant Professor
Research and Clinical Interests
My primary research interests are focused on understanding how the nervous system responds to exposure to environmental toxicants such as heavy metals, and the processes associated with the development and treatment of Parkinson's disease. Presently we are interested in the interaction between environmental toxicants and epigenetic modulation of gene expression within the specific regions of the brain associated with learning and memory. Epigenetics is the study of changes in phenotype brought about at the level of DNA without the need for DNA mutation. Primarily this takes the form of DNA methylation at the carbon-5 position of cytosine in CpG dinucleotides, producing changes in chromatin packaging by post-translational modification, and changes in tissue specific gene expression or silencing. While DNA methylation may be inherited, it may also be induced via environmental exposures, leading to long-term effects on gene expression. We are employing an integrative experimental approach that combines genomic/epigenomic high-resolution microarray analysis in conjunction with neurobehavioral testing, neurochemical and protein expression analyses. This approach allows us to understand the complex interactions centered on DNA promoter methylation (controlled by histone de-acetylating and histone methylating enzymes) upon transcriptional silencing within the brain with specific reference to functional behavioral outcomes such as reduced learning or memory. Understanding these processes and how they can be altered following exposure to such environmental toxicants as heavy metals may allow us to explain some of the long term detrimental effects commonly found in exposed individuals. Ultimately our aim is to use these studies towards our translational research goals of targeting reversal of abnormal gene regulation in the brain as a therapeutic strategy.
The techniques used in our research include Animal Behavioral analysis (Morris Water Maze, Fear Condition Testing and others); Cell/tissue culture; Receptor binding; Autoradiography; Protein phosphorylation; DNA methylation analysis; PCR/RT-PCR/qPCR; RNAi, Gene expression analysis; HPLC; Immunochemical techniques; Electrophoresis; Microarrays; Fluorescence and Light Microscopy; and Bioinformatics.