Research Report 2007

Getting busy with fruit flies

Fruit flies are active creatures and so are those who study them. Dr. Brian Staveley, Biology, and his lab colleagues continue their important and busy work on Parkinson's disease using fruit flies.

The Parkinson Society of Canada National Research Program has awarded the lab of the Friedman Pilot Project Grant $45,000 for one year to study the biological basis of inherited forms of Parkinson's disease. The project will explore the relationship between inherited Parkinson's and mutations in a number of genes linked to defects in protein detoxification.

Parkinson's is the result of the loss of neurons that produce dopamine in the brain. A number of genes, some key to the destruction of toxic proteins, have been associated with inherited forms of the disease. Selective protein detoxification is a common biological mechanism shared by humans and fruit flies. Using fruit fly models, Dr. Staveley's laboratory investigates the cellular functions disrupted in Parkinson's disease.

"Our laboratory has demonstrated that increased expression of the parkin gene, responsible for targeting harmful proteins for destruction, can reverse Parkinson's disease-like symptoms in fruit flies," explained Dr. Staveley. "We have shown that parkin can prevent by cell death caused by elevated levels of Gal-4, a toxic foreign protein.

"In this pilot project, we will begin to examine two new genes linked to PD that we have recently identified in fruit flies. Our goal is to determine the role of these genes, if any, in the detoxification process and expand our models of PD."

Also, recent graduate Dr. Annika Haywood and Dr. Staveley have published a paper in the May 2006 Genome (Vol. 49, pages 505-56) titled Mutant Alpha-Synuclein-Induced Degeneration is Reduced by Parkin in a Fly Model of Parkinson's Disease. In the paper, they analyze the effects of parkin gene co-expression with disease-specific form of alpha-synuclein on the climbing ability of aging fruit flies, their life span, and on retinal degeneration.

Another Staveley lab alum, doctoral candidate Justin Moores, has received an award of excellence (silver) in the recent CIHR National Student Research Poster Competition held at the Canadian Student Health Research Forum in Winnipeg, Man., June 7-9. Mr. Moores' poster was titled Novel Role for Huntington Interacting Protein 1 in Neurogenesis. This winter, Mr. Moores was a participant in the first MUN Graduate Student Research Colloquia Series where he presented Tiny Fruit Flies Tackling Big Medical Questions.

For more information on Mr. Moores' award and the Canadian Student Health Research Forum, visit www.umanitoba.ca/faculties/medicine/research_days/index/index.html