The study shows how a class of commonly used fungicides, designed to protect crops, can cause gene expression changes in mouse brain cells that look strikingly similar to changes in the brains of people with autism and Alzheimer’s disease. The work, published in the journal Nature Communications, describes a new way to home in on chemicals that have the potential to affect brain functions. Authors of the paper are Brandon Pearson, Jeremy Simon, Eric McCoy, Gabriela Salazar, Giulia Fragola, and Mark Zylka. (See also this piece in The Guardian.)
March 18, 2016: Zylka lab postdoc wins SFARI Bridge to Independence Award
Congratulations to Jason Yi for receiving a Bridge to Independence Award from the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) for his proposal, “Inhibitory circuit dysfunction in autism spectrum disorder.” These awards are activated upon starting a faculty position and are intended to invest in the next generation of top autism investigators by helping early-career scientists transition from mentored training positions to independent research careers. The award results in a commitment of $450,000 over three years.
January 14, 2016: Zylka and Philpot to lead UNC Neuroscience Center
Mark Zylka, PhD, will serve as director and Ben Philpot, PhD, will serve as associate director of the UNC Neuroscience Center at the UNC School of Medicine, effective July 1. William Snider, MD, who has served as the center’s director for nearly 17 years, will step down from his leadership role, but will remain on faculty as professor of neurology, while also continuing his research.
In an article published in the journal Cell, Jason Yi and co-workers show how a genetic mutation disables a regulatory molecular switch, creating an enzyme that cannot be turned off and leading to abnormal brain development and autism. A video describing this work was aired on WRAL.
July 9, 2015: Mark Zylka Awarded RSRT Grant for Long Genes Screening
Mark Zylka and co-workers discovered that a class of drugs called topoisomerase inhibitors reduces the expression of long genes, raising the possibility that this class of drugs could be clinically relevant for Rett. The Rett Syndrome Research Trust has awarded Mark Zylka $400,000 to screen for other compounds of topoisomerase inhibitors that can rebalance expression of long genes safely.
Post-doctoral fellow Angela Mabb and co-workers in the Philpot lab and the Zylka lab have discovered a biochemical mechanism that could be the cause of the neurological side effects of chemotherapy, including memory loss, confusion, difficulty thinking, and trouble concentrating. Their research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows how the drug topotecan can drastically suppress the expression of Topoisomerase-1, a gene that triggers the creation of proteins essential for normal brain functions. The authors also suggest that if these enzymes are affected during brain development, the result could be long-term neurodevelopmental problems, such as those found in people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.