From the Brand Lab

Martin Brand, PhDThe Brand Lab studies mitochondria, the biological machines that generate chemical energy and reactive oxygen species, regulate the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and synthesize essential biomolecules.

One aim of the lab is to determine how reactive oxygen species (ROS) are made and where they come from within the mitochondria. Postdoctoral researchers Casey Quinlan, Adam Orr, and Irina Perevoshchikova are each focusing on different protein candidates, but have also combined their brainpower to develop a comprehensive model of ROS production. Importantly, they have developed new ways to measure ROS in “au naturel” mitochondria, minus the chemical treatments that have historically been required to measure ROS. For the first time, this allows us to measure native rates of ROS production and opens a new window into our ability to predict how mitochondria really behave in whole organisms.

A second goal is to understand how mitochondria coordinate with the rest of the cell to regulate cellular, organ, and whole-system function.  Postdoctoral researchers Shona Mookerjee and Shana Katzmann are investigating the functions of specific proteins, currently UCP2 and SIRT3, and how they may regulate mitochondrial respiration, energy production, and ROS generation. Both of these proteins may represent communication points between the mitochondria and the cell, and will help us understand the role of mitochondria in diabetes, metabolism, and lifespan.  Research associate Deepthi Ashok is measuring cellular respiration in mitochondria with different DNA types to find out if mitochondrial genetics influence their function. Postdoctoral researcher Anna Picca and research associate Ryan Ng are collaborating with the Ellerby lab to identify possible mitochondrial malfunction in Huntington’s disease, an incurable, inherited neurodegenerative disease whose study may help us understand Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other types of aging-related neurodegenerative diseases. Staff scientist Akos Gerencser is developing new imaging techniques to study mitochondrial status in models of neurodegeneration and diabetes. Postdoctoral researcher Renata Goncalves is studying the potential for mitochondrial ROS to play a positive role in innate immunity.

David Nicholls, who literally wrote the book on bioenergetics (titled “Bioenergetics”), is currently wrapping up the latest edition, which will include an extensive new section on mitochondrial physiology, diseases and aging. He is also working with Dr. Gerencser on the mechanisms by which mitochondria control the release of insulin from pancreatic beta-cell lines, a vital process in preventing and treating diabetes.

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