11th April, 2018
PCOS research featured in the news
The latest exciting findings from Assoc Prof Rebecca Campbell's lab into the role of brain signalling in polycystic ovary syndrome was featured on RadioNZ on 10th April.
14th March, 2018
Is a man's grey matter the same as a woman's? The documentary features Professor Allan Herbison and Dr Jenny Clarkson and was made with the support of NZ on Air.
9th February, 2018
Dahlia based diabetes drug developed by Physiology researcher ready for human trials
In partnership with Plant and Food Research, researchers will soon begin human trials of a drug made from dahlias.
9th January, 2018
Otago breakthrough in diabetic heart disease
The molecule responsible for heart disease in diabetics has been identified by University of Otago researchers, greatly improving chances of survival.
13th November, 2017
Otago study could mean hope for infertile couples
Crucial new information about how the brain controls fertility has been unlocked by University of Otago researchers, with their findings just published in prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
30th April, 2018
(i) Aisha Sati & (ii) Sahib Rasulov, 1-yr PhD Presentation, Department of Physiology
11th April, 2018
The latest exciting findings from Assoc Prof Rebecca Campbell's lab into the role of brain signalling in polycystic ovary syndrome was featured on RadioNZ on 10th April.
You can listen to the interview on RadioNZ's website at https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/2018639870/new-drug-offers-hope-for-polycystic-ovary-sufferers
Is a man's grey matter the same as a woman's? The documentary features Professor Allan Herbison and Dr Jenny Clarkson and was made with the support of NZ on Air.
In partnership with Plant and Food Research, researchers will soon begin human trials of a drug made from dahlias.
Principal investigator Dr Alex Tups said in tests on mice the product considerably reduced blood-glucose levels. "It could be a potential game-changer because it's a natural extract and its very effective, so we only need a very low dose".
For the full article from today's Otago Daily Times, click here.
The molecule responsible for heart disease in diabetics has been identified by University of Otago researchers, greatly improving chances of survival.
Associate Professor Rajesh Katare, of the Department of Physiology, says diabetes is an epidemic in New Zealand with more than 110,000 people diagnosed with type-2 diabetes, while 100,000 remain undiagnosed.
The leading cause of death in diabetics is cardiovascular disease.
"Diabetes leads to the progressive loss of heart muscle cells, accelerating ageing of the heart and increasing the risk of heart attack.
"However, the reason for this increased risk is not known. Understanding the reason will help in designing targeted therapies to reduce the risk of heart disease in diabetic individuals,’’ he says.
The results of the world-leading study, just published in journal Cell Death & Differentiation, identified the molecule (microRNA-34a) responsible for accelerating the ageing of the heart.
To see the full article click here.
Crucial new information about how the brain controls fertility has been unlocked by University of Otago researchers, with their findings just published in prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Prof Allan Herbison, director of the Centre for Neuroendocrinology in Otago's department of physiology, said the study was also a ``real career highlight''.
It was ``fantastic'' that 10 years of basic Otago research was helping develop potential new therapies for the one-third of infertile people whose problems resulted from aspects of brain control of fertility. It is little known that the brain controls fertility, by first controlling the pituitary gland, which in turn controls the ovaries in females and testes in males. The brain did this by generating pulses of hormone secretion in the blood about once an hour, in males and females, which told the ovary or testis what to do.
Professor Herbison and his principal co-authors Dr Jenny Clarkson and Dr Su Young Han have identified a group of about 2000 kisspeptin neurons in the brain's hypothalamus that synchronise their activity to generate the hormonal pulse. Kisspeptins are a family of proteins that are essential for fertility.
This discovery has important implications for better understanding and manipulating fertility.
Four 3-year project grants were awarded to Department of Physiology researchers in this year’s Marsden Fund - totalling over $3.8M.
University of Otago researchers gained ~$24M for 33 world-class research projects - the University’s most successful round ever. Congratulations to the following staff from the Department of Physiology:
Dr Rebecca Campbell, Physiology
Androgen excess and the female brain ($960,000)
Female androgen excess is a distressing issue for a large number of women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Our current knowledge of androgen signalling in females is sorely lacking and very little is understood about the potentially critical role that androgen actions have in the female brain. This study will employ new transgenic model approaches and the latest generation of clinically relevant drug therapies to dissect out specific androgen actions in the brain and body throughout female development. We are proposing here to silence androgen signalling in specific developmental windows and in specific tissues and cell types to assess the role of androgen actions in both normal fertility and in states of female androgen excess such as PCOS. The outcomes of this proposed series of experiments will ultimately provide valuable new knowledge on the forefront of basic research aimed at understanding PCOS and steroid hormone signalling in the female brain.
Dr Jeffrey Erickson, Physiology (Assoc Investigators Drs Regis Lamberts & Livia Hool)
NO Heart: A novel mechanism for modulating cardiac calcium by nitric oxide. ($937,000)
Nitric oxide (NO) is a key mediator of Ca2+ handling and cellular signaling in the heart, but the targets of NO that coordinate its cardiac effects are largely unknown. Our group recently identified a new target for NO regulation of cardiac physiology, Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinase II (CaMKII). CaMKII activation has broad impact on cardiac physiology, including increasing Ca2+ flux, lowering the threshold for Ca2+ entry, and increasing developed pressure. Our work demonstrated that CaMKII can be both activated and inhibited by NO via a pair of parallel mechanisms that result in nitrosylation of two residues (C273 and C290). Moreover, regulation of CaMKII activity by NO directly impacted Ca2+ handling in myocytes by altering the amount of Ca2+ release from internal stores. In this project, we will determine three critical functional consequences of NO-dependent CaMKII activity: 1) the effects on cellular Ca2+ handling and arrhythmogenic Ca2+ leak in myocytes, 2) the effects on Ca2+ entry into myocytes to initiate contraction, and 3) the effects on whole heart function. With this work, we hope to establish a new mechanism by which NO controls cellular and whole heart function, which would provide novel insight into the physiological and pathological processes that underlie cardiac performance.
Professor Brian Hyland, Physiology (Assoc Investigator Dr Rebecca Campbell)
Defining the brain circuits that interface hunger state with reward signalling to guide food consumption. ($959,000)
Food intake is driven by both by metabolic state, and by the rewarding nature of food and food-associated stimuli. Signals about metabolic state are carried to the brain from the stomach and fat stores by hormones including ghrelin and leptin. Reward signals are processed in the brain by specific circuits. The exact linkages in the brain that enable these processes to be integrated are not fully understood. We will investigate a pathway involving the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus (PVT) that may be key. We will determine if PVT receives information from the brain region where these hormones initially act. Second, we will establish if PVT is positioned to integrate this with information about signals associated with food. Third, we will determine if PVT is appropriately connected to pass this information to structures involved in regulating behavior. To achieve these goals we will combine single neuron recording to characterize responses of brain cells to ghrelin and leptin and to food related cues, with optogenetic methods to selectively activate specific pathways and identify inputs and outputs of recorded cells. The results will provide new knowledge about how the pathways processing food-related signals are interconnected to control feeding.
Dr Karl Iremonger, Physiology
The sex of stress: Understanding sex differences in neural circuits controlling stress. ($958,000)
Men and women respond differently to acute stress, and this underpins sex differences in stress adaptation, stress resilience and risk for developing stress-related mental health conditions. Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) neurons control the secretion of stress hormones in the body. We propose that differing stress responses between the sexes is determined in part by differences in CRH neuron activity patterns and excitability. We will use real-time recording of CRH neuron activity to determine how stress responses differ in male and female mice and identify the cellular mechanisms that cause these differences. The new information generated will provide a basic science platform for differential evidence-based treatment of stress-related disorders in men and women.
Our congratulations to Charlotte who is currently completing a BSc (Hons) degree in Neuroscience in the Department of Physiology with supervisor Assoc Prof Phil Sheard.
At the University of Cambridge, Charlotte hopes to undertake a PhD research project in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences. She is interested in the work of an internationally recognised expert research team, led by Professor Mallucci, who specialise in understanding the common cellular processes involved in various neurodegenerative diseases. Her project title is "How protein misfiling can be prevented in neurodegenerative disease".
In particular, Charlotte is interested in the unfolded protein response, a protective pathway normally activated during cellular stress, which is detrimentally over-activated in the brains of patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This over-activation causes cells to stop producing new proteins. However, re-initiating protein synthesis can prevent further neurodegeneration in a mouse model. Charlotte is interested in investigating how certain compounds that re-induce protein production could be used to prevent the death of brain cells. In the future, such drugs could have the potential to treat, and even prevent, dementia.
Congratulations to Mauro Silva, PhD student in the Department of Physiology. Mauro is supervised by Dr Rebecca Campbell.
Mauro has won two awards at Queenstown Research Week this week:
Congratulations to Colin who as been chosen by the Physiological Society of NZ (PSNZ) to be the recipient of the NZ Triennial Medal.
The Triennial Medal is the most prestigious honour conferred by the PSNZ and is only awarded once every three years in recognition of outstanding research and contribution to physiology nationally. Professor Paul Donaldon, President of the PSNZ, presented the Medal to Colin at Medical Sciences Congress in Queenstown this week.
Congratulations to Dr Bahn who has been awarded a $60K grant for his project “Identification of oxypurinol transporters to decipher drug-drug interactions in gout treatment”.
Gout is a painful inflammation of the joins due to high serum uric acid (SUA) based mostly on an unhealthy Western diet. The gold standard for gout treatment is allopurinol. Once converted into oxypurinol, it inhibits production of uric acid in the liver and lowers SUA. Gout has been associated with many comorbidities including hypertension, which requires adjustment of allopurinol dosage. These drug-drug interactions render gout treatment with allopurinol ineffective exposing the patient to further gout attacks and the risk of life threatening side effects. As drug-drug interactions are based on competition of drugs at transport proteins we hypothesise transporters of the organic anion transporter family (OATs), which are expressed in liver and kidney, are responsible for the observed drug-drug interaction. By investigating these drug-drug interactions in primary human kidney and liver cells, Dr Bahn aims to identify allopurinol/oxypurinol transporters to resolve these drug-drug interactions and improve management of gout treatment.
Lorna Daniels’ PhD thesis has made the Health Sciences Divisional List of Exceptional Doctoral theses.
Lorna's PhD focused on the role of calcium calmodulin dependent protein kinase (CaMKIIδ) in type 2 diabetic heart dysfunction. CaMKIIδ activation has been shown to be up-regulated in diabetes and cause a number of pathological consequences. In this project, Lorna identified CaMKIIδ activation as a novel mediator of cardiac contractility in the type 2 diabetic heart, and that inhibition of CaMKIIδ can improve cardiac function. Therefore the work in this thesis has provided the first novel evidence of the therapeutic potential of CaMKIIδ inhibition in the type 2 diabetic heart.
Lorna was supervised by Drs Jeff Erickson & Regis Lamberts, and Associate Professor Fiona McDonald.
We wish Lorna all the best in her new Postdoctoral Research Fellow position which she is starting soon at the University of Auckland!
Prof Brown has been awarded the 2017 Mortyn Jones Memorial Medal, which is awarded annually by the BSN.
Prof Brown was presented with the medal at the 12th World Congress on Neurohypophysial Hormones conference in Rio de Janeiro recently. He gave the Plenary Lecture on 28th July entitled "Reproductive regulation of magnocellular neuron activity”.
Magnocellular neurons secrete the hormone, oxytocin, which is critical for normal birth and the prevention of early activation of oxytocin neurons is important to reduce the risk of pre-term delivery. Some of Prof Brown’s most recent work shows that a new excitatory projection from kisspeptin neurons to the oxytocin system emerges only in late pregnancy. Hence, antagonism of kisspeptin actions might provide a novel therapeutic target for the management of pregnancies at risk of pre-term delivery.
Our congratulations go to Daniel Barth on making the Health Sciences Divisional List of Exceptional Doctoral theses.
Daniel's research (supervisor Dr Martin Fronius) focused on the characterisation of mechanosensitive ion channels that play important roles in blood pressure regulation and pain sensation. The activity of these mechanosensitive ion channels can be regulated by mechanical forces such as shear force (e.g., caused by blood flow). We found that the epithelial sodium channel requires a connection to the extracellular matrix to sense shear force. In addition, for the first time we provide evidence that the acid-sensing ion channel is a mechanosensitive channel that can be directly regulated by shear force.
Congratulations to Associate Professor Ruth Empson who has been awarded a 2-year project grant ($193,844) for her project "Chloride Co-Transport - a Driving Force for Treating Human Cerebellar Ataxias”.
Ataxia, or loss of controlled movement, occurs when the electrical signals in a part of your brain called the cerebellum go wrong. Ataxia affects young or old, has a variety of causes, usually gets worse, is rarely reversible and very poorly treated. In this collaborative project our hope is to uncover a novel therapeutic mechanism to correct the wayward electrical signals as a promising way to restore cerebellar function and effortless movement control in ataxic humans. The project uniquely harnesses human tissue studies through collaboration with Associate Professor Maurice Curtis and the resources of the NZ Neurological Foundation Douglas Human Brain Bank and other Brain Banks around the world, coupled with highly specific medicinal chemistry, electrophysiological assessment of chloride transporter function and behavioural studies of motor performance in an excellent mouse model of human ataxia.
Dr Carol Bussey was announced as the winner of 2017 Research Staff speaker award at the 239th Scientific Meeting of the Otago School of Medicine Research Society on 28th June.
Carol presented data from her recent work examining the contribution of altered right cardiac sympathetic nerve activity (cSNA) and parasympathetic nerve activity (PSNA) to disturbed heart rate in type 2 Zucker Diabetic Fatty rats. She showed that right cSNA and PSNA are both increased in diabetes, and that changes in afferent signalling from the heart back to the brain may be an underestimated contributor to cardiac dysfunction in type 2 diabetes.
Congratulations to Professor Allan Herbison who is the recipient of two Health Research Council of NZ (HRC) Project Grants totalling almost $2.6 million.
Both projects provide 3-years of funding. Details of the projects are:
GnRH neuron control of ovulation ($1,167,633):
Nearly 40% of women suffering form infertility are unable to ovulate normally. While it is known that the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons in the brain control fertility, the molecular and cellular characteristics of the sub-population of GnRH neurons that drive ovulation are not established. This project aims to identify and characterize the specific GnRH neurons responsible for generating the "GnRH surge" that initiates ovulation. This will be achieved by implementing cutting-edge optogenetic neuroscience methodologies that will allow the electrical activity of "GnRH surge neurons" to be recorded. In addition, the use of a novel genetic cell activity detection strategy will allow the electrical membrane properties and gene expression profiles of GnRH surge neurons to be identified. These studies will generate an in-depth understanding of the key cells that drive ovulation and thereby provide a platform for developing therapeutic agents for fertility control.
Deciphering the dendron for fertility control ($1,092,337):
The gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons control fertility in all mammals including humans. We have recently discovered that GnRH neurons have a cellular process previously unknown in the central nervous system termed a "dendron". We propose that the unique features of the GnRH neuron dendron allow neural inputs to generate and modulate the pulsatile release of reproductive hormone levels in the blood. Correct levels of hormone pulsatility are critical for fertility. This project will use innovative neuroscience technologies to identify the neural inputs acting upon the dendron and then establish their physiological role in regulating the secretion of GnRH. Together, these studies will determine how this unique neuronal structure operates and provide a foundation for exploring the utility of dendron-targeted therapies for fertility control in humans.
After being awarded 1st= for the School of Biomedical Sciences Dean’s Prize for best 2016/17 Summer Scholarship Report recently, Julia has received another prestigious award this week.
Julia was one of 10 students selected to present their summer research scholarship work at the Otago Medical School Research Society (OMSRS) Summer Student Speaker Awards on 10th May. Julia won 1st Prize for her talk: “Determining Sexually Dimorphic Changes in CRH Neural Network Activity Induced by Stress Hormones”.
Well done Julia!
The School of Biomedical Sciences (BMS) Postgraduate Symposium was held on 3-4 May at the Otago Museum, and once again, our students had great success at the event.
Congratulations to the following Physiology PhD students who were awarded prizes:
Congratulations to Julia Gouws (supervisor Dr Karl Iremonger) who was awarded 1st= for the School of Biomedical Sciences Dean’s Prize for best Summer Scholarship Report for 2016/17.
The title of Julia’s summer research project was “Determining how chronically elevated levels of stress hormones affects neuronal excitability in female and male mice.”. The 10-week project involved using the genetically encoded calcium indicator GCaMP6f in order to determine how a model of chronic stress in mice affected CRH neuronal activity and whether there were sex differences in this activity.
Julia is now undertaking a one-year Masters in the Department.
Lab in a Box is a mobile science laboratory, built in a 20 foot shipping container. It comes fully equipped with both science “gear” and people. Researchers and students from around New Zealand (or indeed around the World) are involved in this fantast
We have recently had Dr Andrew Bahn and Associate Professor Rajesh Katare go to different destinations to promote science as part of the Lab in a Box programme.
Dr Bahn went to Timaru from 16-17 March and ran a kidney lab with the students. Assoc Prof Katare went to Rakaia on 24 March and introduced the students to cardiac physiology by measuring heart rate and blood pressure.
We have had great feedback from the teachers and the students. See some photos and comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/physiologyotago
Anatomy and Physiology at the University of Otago have ranked 24th in the world in the latest QS World University Rankings.
This is the first year Anatomy and Physiology has been added as a subject to the QS rankings.
Well done to all our staff and students who have contributed to this success!
For the full list of Universities ranked for this subject, see https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/university-subject-rankings/2017/anatomy-physiology
While in India to deliver the keynote address at JIPMER’s Karaikal's campus last week, Assoc Prof Rajesh Katare was interviewed by one of India’s leading newspapers, The Hindu.
To see the full article about Assoc Prof Katare’s exciting research, please see http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/key-finding-promises-early-detection-of-cardiovascular-disease-in-diabetics/article17413731.ece
Congratulations to Associate Professor Rajesh Katare who was awarded a research project grant of $88,246 over two years.
The project (with Associate Investigator Professor Michael Williams from the Department of Medicine) is entitled “Circulating microRNAs as prognostic indicator of ischemic heart disease”.
Patients with chronic ischaemic heart disease (IHD) require regular follow-up to monitor progression of the disease and response to treatment. Currently, apart from echocardiography which requires patients visiting a specialty centre which is expensive, there is no other test available to precisely monitor the heart function during regular follow-up. In this study, they aim to test whether changes in the level of circulating microRNAs reflect changes in heart function, thereby making them a potent independent prognostic marker to understand progression of IHD. Results from this study will confirm the specificity and sensitivity of the circulating microRNAs in accurately reflecting the functional state of the diseased heart. In long term, this could result in the development of a novel biomarker assay to test the prognosis of IHD.
The Department of Physiology has once again raised significant funds for a charity to its heart.
Last week the Department held its second annual South Island Cycle Challenge at the Wall Street Mall to raise funds for the Heart Foundation – New Zealand’s leading independent funder of heart research.
It saw about 40 teams from Otago departments and Dunedin businesses pedalling to clock up as many kilometres as possible in 10 minutes on an exercise bike. Those kilometres were then added to a map of New Zealand to try and “cycle” from Dunedin to Haast.
"It was also a great way to raise awareness of heart disease - having people doing exercise over the three hour period!".
One of the organisers, Physiology Departmental Administrator and PA to the Head of Department, Tracey Fleet says this year’s event was held to coincide with the Heart Foundation’s Annual Appeal day and was once again very popular.
“We have a good relationship with the Heart Foundation and our Department has been fortunate to gain a lot of funding from them over the years, so we were happy to help,” Mrs Fleet says. “It was also a great way to raise awareness of heart disease - having people doing exercise over the three hour period!”
In addition, Physiology PhD student Lorna Daniels attempted her own challenge – to do 1,000 burpees over the course of the event.
“It added a real buzz to the event, and she did it in just under three hours - an incredible achievement.”
Currently the event has raised around $2,500, with a final tally to be calculated in several weeks once all of the donations are in. If you would like to donate go to: https://give.everydayhero.com/nz/south-island-cycle-challenge-2017
(From the Otago Bulletin, Thursday, 23 February 2017)
Three staff from the Department of Physiology received awards at the ceremony on 14th December.
Associate Professor Pat Cragg’s Service to the School Award recognises her distinguished service over an extended period and her many contributions to the School. Pat has been a member of the Department of Physiology and the School for 40 years, including being Head of Department for 12 years, and more recently, Acting Dean and Deputy Dean of the School.
Congratulations also to Andrew Barlow who received the Distinguished Professional Practice Fellow/Teaching Fellow Award, and to Dr Daryl Schwenke, who received the Pasifika Research Award.
For a full list of recipients, see the Otago Bulletin: http://www.otago.ac.nz/otagobulletin/people/otago629589.html.
Congratulations to Professor Alison Heather who has been awarded the $50,000 grant from the Division of Health Sciences to assist her with the development of a new bioassay to detect estrogenic compounds in blood samples.
For the full article featured on the University of Otago Bulletin, see http://www.otago.ac.nz/otagobulletin/people/otago628307.html
The latest Royal Society of NZ Marsden Fund round has awarded 3-year project grants to three Department of Physiology researchers.
Congratulations to Professor Colin Brown, Professor Allan Herbison and Dr Alex Tups who were awarded grants. Their projects are 3 of 23 projects awarded to researchers at the University of Otago.
A brief outline of the projects are below:
Professor Colin Brown (Physiology):Drinking for two: Central resetting of water balance in pregnancy and lactation ($825,000)
Pregnant women retain water during pregnancy to ensure an adequate blood supply for the developing baby and to prepare for milk production during lactation. Water is retained by increasing the secretion of vasopressin, a hormone that promotes water reabsorption in the kidneys. Normally, dilution of body salts by water retention decreases vasopressin secretion, but this doesn’t happen in pregnancy or lactation. While it has been known since the 1980s that altered vasopressin secretion resets water balance during pregnancy, the mechanisms that cause this resetting are still unknown. Our new data show that vasopressin-secreting cells are more sensitive to salt during lactation and so this might be the mechanism that resets water balance during pregnancy. Therefore, we will determine how vasopressin cells increase their responsiveness to salt in pregnancy to prepare women for successful pregnancy and lactation.
Professor Allan Herbison (Physiology): In vivo gene editing with CRISPR to define estrogen feedback in the brain ($825,000)
Circulating levels of the ovarian hormone estrogen act on the brain to control fertility. A group of brain cells called the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons are responsible for controlling fertility in all mammals including humans. At present, the cellular pathway through which estrogen modulates the activity of GnRH neurons in unknown. This project intends to determine precisely which brain cells are responsible for detecting estrogen levels in the blood and transmitting this information to the GnRH neurons. We will use a novel application of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to delete estrogen receptors from GABA, glutamate or kisspeptin neurons located in two specific brain regions of the mouse. This research will develop world-leading in vivo gene editing technology for neuroscience within New Zealand and elucidate the mechanism of "estrogen feedback" to the GnRH neurons. This information will underpin the development of new strategies for helping infertile couples as well as the development of safer contraceptive agents.
Dr Alexander Tups (Physiology): Hypothalamic Inflammation: Cause of leptin resistance and obesity? ($795,000)
Leptin, made by fat cells, is a hormone that usually tells the brain to stop eating. When people accumulate fat, leptin in the blood reaches very high unhealthy levels which make the brain unresponsive to the hormone. The loss of leptin action leads to the development of obesity and associated diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Saturated fats from a Western style diet lead to inflammation of the brain. This grant will explore whether this so called brain inflammation caused by dietary saturated fats is the cause of the loss of leptin responses and thereby the trigger for the development of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
For a full list of the grants awarded, see http://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago625584.html
(Text from the University of Otago website)
Click here to read the ODT interview with the CNE recipients of this funding round.
The Otago University Student’s Association Teaching Awards 2016 were held on 21st September.
Dr Matt Bevin was one of five finalists for the 2016 Teaching Awards and was awarded runner-up on the night - a phenomenal achievement. Dr Bevin teaches into the medical curriculum as a main focus, but also makes key contributions to other professional programmes through involvement in HUBS 192 and PHSL251 papers. His students constantly praise his teaching through student evaluations year after year.
Two other Department of Physiology lecturers were also acknowledged at the Awards - Drs Jeff Erickson and Daryl Schwenke were both nominated for awards.
We have had a number of students win prizes at Queenstown Research Week which has been held this week in Nelson (not Queenstown this year!).
Congratulations to the following students who have won prizes:
QMB Heart Disease Satellite Meeting:
The Department of Physiology have been awarded one of only two project grants, and two out of three small project grants in the latest Heart Foundation research funding round.
The Samoa Observer says professors do not often compete in multi-sport events in Samoa and Otago’s Alison Heather even ended up winning the women’s section of the Warrior Race.
Read the article at http://www.otago.ac.nz/otagobulletin/people/otago618654.html
Congratulations to Emmet Power, Postdoctoral Fellow in Assoc Prof Ruth Empson’s laboratory, who won the Otago Medical School Research Society (OMSRS) Research Staff Award on 6th July.
Emmet’s talk was entitled “Altered metabotropic glutamate receptor activity in early spinocerebellar ataxia type 1”.
Emmet’s research is based on a disease called Spinocerebellar ataxia type 1 (SCA1). SCA1 is a motor disorder primarily affecting a region of the brain called the cerebellum. Within the cerebellum, SCA1 causes degeneration of the Purkinje neurons (PNs), which are the sole output cells of the cerebellar cortex. Emmet’s research concentrates on the role metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) play in the progression of, and symptoms associated with, SCA1. Emmet has discovered that mGluR receptors, expressed on PNs, are over-activated in the early stages of SCA1. This over-activation contributes to the behavioural symptoms of SCA1, at least in the early stages of the disease, and these symptoms can be reversed when the over-activation is prevented. This research highlights mGluRs as a potential therapeutic target for the treatment of SCA1, meriting further investigation.
Dr Daryl Schwenke, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Physiology, is part of this Caucus which was formally launched on 11th July.
For full details on the members of the Caucus and their aspirations as a group, please see the full article in the Otago Bulletin - http://www.otago.ac.nz/otagobulletin/people/otago617173.html
Congratulations to Mauro Batista da Silva (supervisor Dr Rebecca Campbell) who was awarded the CNE PhD Prize on 28th June.
The CNE PhD prize is open to all CNE 2nd year PhD students. The top three 2nd Year PhD students selected by the CNE Principal Investigators gave an oral presentation with an additional 10 minutes for questions. One of the judges was the CNE Lecturer for 2016 - Prof. Valerie Simonneaux of the Institut des Neurosciences Cellulaires et Intégratives, University of Strasbourg.
Mauro’s research is focused on trying to unveil neuronal and endocrine mechanisms underlying the pathophysiology of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which is the main cause of female infertility throughout the world. To date, Mauro has discovered in an animal model of the syndrome that, even before the onset of puberty, the brain presents circuitry abnormalities and these are correlated with a disruption in female fertility in adulthood. Although this scenario looks negative, Mauro has also found that those altered brain circuits can be reversed by blocking the high androgen levels in the syndrome and, ultimately, restore fertility.
With his most recent publication (1 June 2016) Prof. Allan Herbison, Department of Physiology, has reached the very significant landmark of 200 peer-reviewed journal article publications.
This achievement is outstanding - not only in quantity, but in quality and impact. Professor Herbison has over 13,000 citations and an H index of 64.
The three most highly-cited publications from work undertaken in Physiology have been those working with Seong-Kyu Han (1), Rebecca Campbell and Rob Porteous (2), and Jenny Clarkson (3).
1. Han SK, Gottsch ML, Lee KJ, Popa SM, Smith JT, Jakawich SK, Clifton DK, Steiner RA, Herbison AE. (2005) Activation of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons by kisspeptin as a neuroendocrine switch for the onset of puberty. J Neurosci 25, 11349-11356. [662 citations]
2. Wintermantel T*, Campbell RE*, Porteous R, Bock D, Gröne HJ, Todman MG, Korach KS, Greiner E, Perez CA, Schütz G, Herbison AE. (2006) Definition of estrogen receptor pathway critical for estrogen positive feedback to gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons and fertility. Neuron 52, 271-280. [355 citations]
3. Clarkson J, Herbison AE. (2006) Postnatal development of kisspeptin neurons in mouse hypothalamus; sexual dimorphism and projections to gonadotropin-releasing hormone neurons. Endocrinology, 147, 5817-5825. [510 citations]
The Department has had great success in the latest Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand funding round with two staff members being awarded 3-year project grants
Professor Allan Herbison (with Named Investigator Dr Richard Piet) has been awarded $1,121,058 for the project “Generating pulses with KnDY neurons”. The brain controls the levels of hormones circulating in the blood. The fertility hormones are secreted in a pulsatile manner that is essential for normal reproduction in humans. While it is known that the brain generates pulsatile hormone secretion, how it does this has remained a complete mystery. This project aims to build on a recent exciting discovery in the laboratory that has given us a clue as to the origin of fertility hormone pulsatility. Using genetically-manipulated mouse models and the very latest techniques in neuroscience, Prof Herbison’s lab aims to elucidate and characterize the role of a small distinct group of brain cells they believe to be responsible for generating pulses of fertility hormones in the blood. Understanding how the brain controls fertility will lead to the development of new therapies for treating infertile couples in addition to new methods of contraception.
Dr Richard Piet (with Named Investigator Dr Rebecca Campbell) has been awarded $1,074,371 for the project “Timekeeping in the neural network controlling fertility”. Fertility is controlled by a complex neuronal network in the brain that drives the activity of the gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons. This project aims to examine the mechanisms underlying the regulation of this neuronal network by the central biological clock in females. Dr Piet’s lab will use state-of-the art experimental approaches in genetically-modified mouse models to dissect the specific brain circuits involved in keeping time within the GnRH neural network under both physiological and pathological conditions. They anticipate their studies will provide new information of the brain mechanisms involved in the control of reproductive function, and may open new avenues for therapeutic strategies for treating infertility in the clinic.
Dr Karl Iremonger and Dr Alex Tups were also Named Investigators on two separate successful projects with Principal Investigators from the Department of Anatomy.
For the full list of project grants awarded, please see the University of Otago website.
Last week, students at East Otago High School got to experience the exciting phenomenon of “Lab in a Box”.
Lab in a Box (LIAB) is a mobile science laboratory, built in a 20 foot shipping container. It has a huge range of scientific equipment for students and groups to use. LIAB is for rural communities in particular and it is aimed mainly for primary and intermediate aged school children.
Dr Andrew Bahn and Assoc Prof Ruth Empson from the Department of Physiology visited East Otago High School on 11th and 12th May respectively. Dr Bahn hosted a LIAB Kidney Lab where he led a session of Year 9-12 students on the importance of the kidney in human physiology. Students were able to compare different (fake) urine samples and measure blood and glucose presence, pH levels and specific gravity. They were able to compare results and give a diagnosis on the possible cause of the presence of glucose on urine and the consequence of an unhealthy diet.
Assoc Prof Empson led a session on cerebellar (brain) adaption. Year 10-12 students performed a cerebellar task where they disrupted the visual field with a pair of prism goggles. They then threw balls in a bucket, before and after wearing the prism goggles, then compared the results to experience, at first hand, the wonders of the brain and its capacity for adaptation. She also tested two Senior Science students at the School who volunteered to be part of a Lottery Health funded project that is using a newly developed Android App to test cerebellar adaptation in the Community.
The Department has already been involved with LIAB, when Dr Rajesh Katare went to Twizel Area School in March for a Family Fun Science Exploration for Year 0-13 students.
(Information from the LIAB website - to see what other events LIAB is involved in, see ( https://labinabox.nz)
The Otago School of Medical Sciences (OSMS) Postgraduate Symposium was held on 4-5 May at the Otago Museum, and our Department of Physiology students had great success at the event.
There were a number of prizes, with the winners of the two top prizes (Best Poster and Best Presentation) being invited to attend the University of Queensland Postgraduate Symposium in Brisbane later this year.
We are pleased to announce that two Physiology PhD students took out the two top prizes! Congratulations to:
Congratulations to Nigaah Khan (supervisor Dr Jeff Erickson) and Isabelle van Hout (supervisors Assoc Profs Grant Butt and Michael Schultz).
Nigaah and Isabelle have been awarded the Otago Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) Summer Research Renshaw Prize for best report submitted by an OMRF-funded summer research student at the end of their project. This is decided by the OMRF Scientific Committee, and this year there were two winners - both from the Department of Physiology!
Congratulations to Department of Physiology staff members who were awarded funding from the Lottery Grants Board to support studies focusing on improving New Zealanders' health.
The following project grants were awarded to Department of Physiology staff:
The Department of Physiology and the Heart Foundation organised a fantastic event at Wall Street Mall on Thursday 25th February as part of the Heart Foundation’s Annual Appeal.
Businesses around Dunedin and departments in the University were encouraged to register teams of up to four. The aim was for teams to clock up as many kilometres as possible in 10 minutes on an exercise bike. Five bikes were set up at a time, with one of the bikes being ridden by a very dedicated participant (Ian Bartley from the Frontrunner) who cycled for the full 3 hours and clocked up 100km!. We had 40 teams register, some of which were last-minute registrations on the day, so it was a fantastic turnout.
We were also very lucky to have members from the 2016 Highlanders team for the first half of the event, which created a fantastic atmosphere. Many thanks for their support throughout the event.
The distances were plotted on a map of the South Island to see how far each team had “travelled” The aim was to get from Dunedin to Haast during the event - a very tough feat. However due to some enthusiastic staff and students from the Department of Physiology, as well as Ian Bartley, the remaining 6kms were completed and we made it to Haast!
It was a great event for all with fantastic atmosphere throughout the event. Donations can still be made online at http://phsl.otago.ac.nz/bike-event until the end of March. We have raised just over $2,800 for the Heart Foundation which is a wonderful effort!
Otago’s Department of Physiology is organising an event to give something back to a charity that supports many of its researchers – the Heart Foundation.
Click here to find out more.
Click on the following link to listen to the interview:
The OSMS Awards and end of year celebration was held on Wednesday 16th December, with Physiology staff winning 3 awards.
Congratulations to the following people who were recognised at the Awards:
Professor Alison Heather hosted a sports doping symposium on Wednesday 2 December. It has received a lot of positive feedback by all that attended, and it attracted local media coverage with Professor Heather appearing on Dunedin TV.
To view the full Dunedin Television interview, please see http://www.dunedintv.co.nz/news/professors-gather-tackle-sport-doping. It also includes an interview from Professor David Handelsman who attended the Symposium and gave a number of lectures throughout the week. Professor Handelsman is the Director of the ANZAC Research Institute and Professor of Reproductive Endocrinology & Andrology at the University of Sydney. He is an internationally-recognised expert in androgen biology, male reproduction and androgen doping in sports and in 2015 was the most cited author world-wide on “androgens”.
Culturing ''mini-guts'' from stem cells to treat Crohn's disease has potential to cure the disease in some patients, University of Otago physiology research student Safina Gadeock says.
To read the ODT article, click here.
Two researchers from the Department of Physiology, Dr Martin Fronius and Dr Pete Jones, have been awarded grants from the prestigious Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund.
Dr Martin Fronius was awarded $755,000 over 3 years for his project "Shear force dependent regulation of epithelial Na+ channel (ENaC) and its relevance for blood pressure regulation". The ability to detect mechanical forces and to translate them into biochemical signals is a ubiquitous feature of cells. Epithelial Na+ channels (ENaCs) are regulated by shear force and their localisation in blood vessels implies a function in blood pressure regulation. We will explore the unknown mechanism of how ENaC senses shear force, and discover its role in blood pressure regulation. ENaC activity in response to shear force will be measured in cells (electrophysiology) and isolated blood vessels (pressure myography). These results will reveal a new mechanism that explains how mechanical shear force is converted into the cellular signals that underpin blood pressure regulation.
Dr Pete Jones was awarded $805,000 over 3 years for his project "Generating Novel Biosensors to Monitor Oxidative Stress in the Heart". Protein oxidation, a consequence of reactive oxygen species (ROS), is a fundamental form of intracellular signalling. ROS production is differentially regulated in discrete regions of the cell, but despite the importance of these 'ROS microdomains' there are currently no tools with the necessary spatial resolution to examine them. In the heart, oxidation is a key regulator of contraction and excess ROS leads to disease, particularly following ischemia-reperfusion injury. ROS augments contraction by increasing calcium release. The calcium release unit in cells of the heart is located within a unique structure, the cardiac dyad, with highly restricted diffusion and localised ROS production. This creates a discrete ROS microdomain. In this project we propose to create mice expressing genetically encoded ROS sensors targeted to the calcium release unit to pioneer the study of the dyad ROS microdomain. We will use these mice to determine when and how ROS within this microdomain is altered. This will allow us to unravel the interplay between ROS and calcium signalling. Understanding how and when the ROS microdomain surrounding the calcium release unit is perturbed will offer a new perspective on how calcium homeostasis is maintained physiologically and becomes corrupted during disease.
More than $11.7M was funded to University of Otago researchers in this competitive funding round.
A world expert in the field of brain “connectomics” from Harvard University recently visited the Department of Physiology as the 2015 Prestigious Eccles Speaker.
The field of connectomics aims to study how brain cells are connected with one another. In order to study connections in the brain, Professor Jeff Lichtman has developed some sophisticated techniques to visualize brain cells and map them in precise detail. One of these techniques is called “Brainbow”. This involves targeting bright glowing molecules into brain cells such that different brain cells glow different colours of the rainbow. This allows the structure of brain cells to be seen and for their connections to be mapped. His laboratory has also been using powerful electron microscopes to see the smallest details of the brain. Powerful computing software is then used to “stitch” thousands of these images together to create a road map of brain connections. This research is shedding new light on how individual brain cells are connected with one another. In the future, these techniques will allow researchers to understand how brain connections are disrupted during neurodegenerative diseases and neurological disorders.
Professor Allan Herbison discussed his laboratory's research on brain and fertility on a Radio New Zealand interview on Saturday 17th October.
Professor Herbison has discovered that neurons called Kisspeptins are responsible for fertility. Kisspeptins have to send signals via the pituitary gland to the ovaries or testes every hour for conception to be able to occur.
This raises hopes that in the future, Kisspeptin could be used as a therapy in helping people conceive. This hormone mechanism could also be manipulated as an effective form of contraception.
To listen to the interview, click here http://www.http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/thiswayup#audio-201774919.
Research, led by Professor Allan Herbison of the Department of Physiology, has shown which neurons flip a key ''fertility master switch'' in the brain.
The findings of the research have been published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Further information about the research can be found on the Otago Daily Times webpage at http://www.odt.co.nz/campus/university-otago/358304/fertility-switch-brain. The research is also featured on the University of Otago website.
Dr Schwenke’s project is entitled "A PILOT study – identifying the physiological relevance of acyl vs non-acyl ghrelin for modulating cardiac sympathetic nerve activity following acute myocardial infarction”.
The peptide hormone Ghrelin has been shown to have striking cardioprotective properties, particularly via its sympatho-inhibitory effects following acute myocardial infarction. Interestingly, although two circulating isoforms of ghrelin exist, acyl and des-acyl ghrelin, all of ghrelin’s biological activity has been attributed to the acyl isoform because it has long been accepted that des-acyl ghrelin is void of any biological activity. Recent evidence, however, suggests that des-acyl ghrelin may also play a pivotal role in several physiological systems, independent of acyl ghrelin. Accordingly, this study aims to identify whether ghrelin’s sympatho-inhibitory properties following acute MI are attributable to acyl-, des-acyl, or a combination of both isoforms of ghrelin, and thus establish the therapeutic potential of des-acyl ghrelin in the sympathetic-cardiac axis.
Blurbs from other successful University of Otago projects can be found at http://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago169401.html.
Congratulations to the 15 staff and students from the Department of Physiology who donned Physiology t-shirts and took part in the Dunedin Marathon on Sunday 13th September.
We had participants in every event - from the full marathon to the quarter-marathon walk. Particular mention should go to Dr Steve Tripp (Medical Teaching Fellow) who ran the full marathon and placed 5th in the Masters Men and 18th overall.
Well done to everyone!
Congratulations to Adam Ware, PhD student in the Department of Physiology (supervisor Assoc Prof Fiona McDonald), who was awarded the Physiological Society of NZ Poster Prize at Queenstown Research Week last week.
The award is presented as part of the Medical Sciences Congress conference at Queenstown Research Week.
Adam's poster was entitled "COMMD10: A novel regulator of the protein trafficking pathway?" COMMD10 is a protein with no known function. Early results have suggested interactions between COMMD10 and proteins involved in the protein trafficking pathway. The pathway covers the synthesis of proteins and their subsequent delivery to their appropriate cellular destination. In this study, the McDonald lab will use the epithelial sodium channel (ENaC) as an example protein that would be trafficked through the pathway.
Their results have identified that a reduction in COMMD10 reduces the amount of ENaC at the membrane suggesting that COMMD10 plays a role in the trafficking pathway. The lab have provided evidence to show COMMD10 has a similar cellular location to Arf1 (a protein crucial in many parts of the pathway) and that a reduction in COMMD10 causes a change in location of Arf1. Taking the ENaC and Arf1 data together, they have provided evidence that suggests COMMD10 is a novel regulator of the protein trafficking pathway.
Congratulations to Dr Rebecca Campbell, Department of Physiology, who has been awarded the Health Sciences Division Supervisor of the Year Award.
This year there were approximately 160 nominations from research students who took the time to acknowledge the excellent work our supervisors do for them. Dr Campbell was chosen by the students as one of sixteen finalists to receive an award for outstanding supervision.
Dr Campbell was presented with the Health Sciences Division Award at a ceremony on 24th August at the University’s Staff Club.
Congratulations to Dr Phil Heyward and Dr Alex Tups have won the $50,000 grant from Otago Innovation to work on a nutraceutical that could help type II diabetes patients regulate their blood sugar levels better.
The neutraceutical involves a plant product, and Drs Heyward and Tups are collaborating with researchers from Plant and Food Research and from Food Science to develop the product.
To see the full article featured on the University of Otago website, click here.
A collaboration of artists and scientists - 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m., 15-30 August, HD Skinner Annex
The University of Otago, the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic & Quantum Technologies, the Otago Museum and the Dunedin School of Art at the Otago Polytechnic have undertaken a collaborative programmes in 2014-15 - he Art and Light Project. This is a free exhibition.
Dr Rajesh Katare’s breakthrough research into diabetes has been featured in the Otago Daily Times on 13th August.
Click here for the full article on Dr Katare’s research and how he has discovered why heart disease is the leading killer of people with diabetes.
Jim Woods from the Department's Emtech Unit - work highlighted in the Otago Daily Times,
Congratulations to Jim Woods from the Emtech Unit whose work was highlighted in today's ODT - click here for the story (Acoustic tool tested before polar research).
Jim in consultation with Geology, designed, project managed and built the "Thumper" which will be used for seismic research in Antarctica. This is just one example of the fine work our very own Emtech engineers can produce.
Karl was one of five University academics to be recognised in this year’s awards.
The Early Career Awards in Research recognise the University’s most promising early career researchers. Each recipient receives $5,000 to support their research and scholarship development. They also become members of the University’s O’Zone Group of early-to-mid-career researchers which promotes interdisciplinary thinking and collaborations within the University and beyond.
Karl’s research focuses on understanding how brain cells control the body’s response to stress. Last year, he was awarded the Prime Minister’s MacDiarmid Emerging Scientist Prize as well as a Sir Charles Hercus Health Research Fellowship.
Dr Jeff Erickson has been awarded $1,046,772 over three years from the Health Research Council for his research into diabetes mellitus.
Diabetes mellitus is a disease that is reaching epidemic status around the world. As of 2013, almost 250,000 people have been diagnosed with diabetes in New Zealand, an increase of 56% since 2008 alone. The most common cause of death for diabetic individuals is heart failure, and yet no diabetes-specific treatment for the heart is currently available.
The key research goal of Dr Erickson’s group is to determine whether inhibition of CaMKII, a key signaling protein that promotes heart disease, can improve cardiac function and reduce pathological remodelling of the heart in diabetic patients with coronary heart disease. Given the ever increasing prevalence of diabetes and the critical need for therapies targeted specifically to prevent heart failure in diabetic patients, achieving their goal could have a profound impact on health outcomes for diabetic individuals in New Zealand and worldwide.
Drs Pete Jones & Regis Lamberts, also from the Department of Physiology, are Associate Investigators on the project.
Dr Rebecca Campbell has recently been awarded funding from the Health Research Council (HRC) for a 3-year project to enable her to continue cutting-edge research involving female fertility.
To read more about Dr Campbell's research, please read recent articles in the NZ Herald and Otago Daily Times:
Another Department of Physiology researcher, Dr Jeff Erickson, has also been awarded a 3-year project grant from the HRC, and information about his project will follow soon.
Congratulations to Dr Campbell and Dr Erickson for this significant funding achievement.
Dr Rajesh Katare is carrying out a two-year research project funded by the Heart Foundation, which aims to develop a stem cell therapy that will held mend damaged hearts in people with diabetes.
To read the full article, click here.
Congratulations to Safina Gadeock, PhD student in Physiology, who was awarded the prize at the Colloquium which was held from 28-29 April.
Safina (supervisors Assoc Profs Grant Butt & Michael Schultz) presented her poster at the Poster Evening on 28th April, which was entitled “Enteroids - a model of the colonic epithelium in IBD”.
Safina, along with the winner of the oral presentation, have won a trip to the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Queensland to attend their Postgraduate Colloquium later in the year.
Full details of the event can be found on the Otago School of Medical Sciences (OSMS) website at http://osms.otago.ac.nz
And a fine bunch of students they are too! Welcome.
The Department of Physiology took part in the Cancer Society's Relay for Life on 7-8 March with a team of 13 staff and students.
It was a great effort with people dedicating their personal time during the day and during the small hours of the night, to walk round and round the Forsyth Barr Stadium between the hours of 12pm Saturday to 12pm Sunday.
There were a number of aching bodies on Monday, but it was worth the effort. In total, Team Physiology raised $1,400 from donations. The Relay for Life organisers confirmed the Dunedin event was the largest Relay for Life in NZ in terms of participants, and they are expecting their final total to be over $250K once final donations, registrations etc are counted up.
Two PhD students from the Department of Physiology have published papers in the prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Pauline Campos (supervisors Profs Allan Herbison & Brian Hyland) and Aleisha Moore (supervisors Dr Rebecca Campbell & Prof Allan Herbison) are both students in the Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience Focus Group, and submitted their PhD theses in February of this year.
Pauline's research has focused on a small population of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons. The reproductive system is critically dependent upon pulsatile hormone release patterned and driven by these GnRH neurons. To date, the scattered distribution of the GnRH cell bodies remain the main limitation to investigating the cellular events that lead to pulsatile secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH). Using cutting edge technologies, the Herbison lab have generated a mouse model in which the GnRH neurons that control gonadotropin secretion can be selectively activated in living animals. They have been able to define how GnRH neurons generate a pulse of LH and this finding provides critical information for understanding and manipulating reproductive biology in mammals.
Aleisha's research focused on Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which is the most common cause of infertility among women of reproductive age worldwide. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of infertility among women of reproductive age worldwide. Although PCOS is typically thought of as a disease of the ovaries, there is evidence that changes occur within neuronal circuits of the brain that control fertility. Using a mouse model of PCOS, the Campbell laboratory has identified abnormalities within a novel neuronal circuit that may underlie the development of PCOS symptoms. This work may lead to the production of novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of PCOS in women.
Pauline is now a research staff member in the Herbison lab, while Aleisha is doing a University of Otago Publishing Bursary with the aim to submitting a further paper.
In February of this year Associate Professors Hallie Buckley and Fiona McDonald travelled to Apia, Samoa to assist the Faculty of Medicine of the National University of Samoa with the launching of their new preclinical medical courses in Anatomy and Physiology. This is an initiative run through the Division of Health Sciences of Otago to facilitate the development of a new Medical programme at the NUS. Buckley and McDonald each delivered the first week of teaching and worked with Samoan clinical teachers with developing the rest of the course for the semester. This initiative is planned to run for another 2 years.
Links to press releases about the initiative:
A University of Otago researcher is part of an international collaboration that has developed an exciting and expansive new set of tools to probe cell types in the brain.
The scientists’ work, reported this week in the leading journal Neuron, partly involves using techniques that manipulate the genes of a small subset of cells so that the cells glow under fluorescent microscopes. By manipulating unique gene markers for each cell type into fluorescent labels or probes, the structure and function of various types of neurons can be visualized and studied.
Another facet of these new tools, beyond making certain cell types fluorescently glow, is the ability to use light to make the cells actually fire a signal, using a technique called optogenetics.
The combination of fluorescent imaging and optogenetic stimulation is a powerful way to learn both where cells are in space, when they are active or silent, and how they interact, or connect, with other cells in the circuits they form.
Associate Professor Ruth Empson of Otago’s Department of Physiology says these innovations are powerful new techniques that will greatly advance worldwide efforts to understand how different parts of the brain connect and communicate during behaviour.
“It has been amazing to be part of such an important international effort from New Zealand. These new tools are now assisting an exciting new Marsden-funded collaboration—with Professor Thomas Knopfel of Imperial College London and Dr Andrew Clarkson of Otago’s Anatomy Department—that will help understand the significance of connectivity changes among a specific group of motor neurons after stroke,” Associate Professor Empson says.
The collaborations were led by Allen Institute for Brain Science scientists and included researchers at University College London, MIT, Imperial College London, University of Zurich, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Mount Sinai Hospital and Associate Professor Empson’s laboratory at Otago.
To view a short YouTube video on the new tools, click here.
(Article originally appears on University of Otago website, 6 March 2015)
Using an antioxidant to reverse inflammation in the brain caused by a high-fat diet greatly improves symptoms related to obesity and type II diabetes, a new University of Otago-led study suggests.
The research, which appears in the leading international journal Diabetes, was led by Dr Alex Tups of the University’s Centre for Neuroendocrinology and Department of Physiology.
Dr Tups and an international team investigated whether directly stopping inflammatory processes in the brain’s hypothalamus could help lower blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance.
In their research the team blocked a particular inflammatory signalling pathway (IKKβ/NF-κB) in the brains of obese mice. The researchers studied both mice that were obese due to a deficiency in the satiety hormone leptin and others due to a high-fat diet.
The scientists administered butein to the mice to block the signalling pathway, which is involved in the body’s inflammatory immune responses. Butein is a flavonoid derived from plants traditionally used in Chinese herbal medicine.
Dr Tups says the team found that administering butein either directly into the brain or orally greatly improved glucose tolerance and brain insulin signalling in both types of obese mice.
“We also showed that this profound effect was dose-dependent with better glucose tolerance achieved through higher doses of butein,” Dr Tups says.
The improved glucose tolerance of high-fat diet mice treated with the antioxidant was such that no difference was noticeable between them and low fat-diet mice that had not received butein.
To confirm that activation of the IKKβ/NF-κB pathway plays a central role in metabolic obesity symptoms, the researchers also used a gene therapy technique to inhibit it in neurons in the hypothalamus.
This gene therapy resulted in high-fat diet mice having a reduced body weight, building up less fat, expending more energy, and showing evidence of improved leptin-signalling.
Dr Tups says the study adds to growing body of evidence that a diet high in saturated fats activates a cascade of inflammatory processes in the brain which impair leptin and insulin signalling, leading to obesity and type II diabetes.
“Our findings strongly support this idea and we also show that reversing this inflammation promotes a return towards normal metabolic functioning,” he says.
The research suggests that butein and other natural compounds that block inflammation in the brain should be vigorously investigated as novel anti-diabetic treatments, he says.
(Article originally appeared on University of Otago website, 30 January 2015)
We have been told for years to limit our salt intake for the sake of our health.
Now, new research carried out on rats, partly conducted at the University of Otago, has discovered how salt affects a part of the brain that controls blood pressure.
Researchers said in a press release more research was needed on whether the same thing happened in humans, and how it might be reversed.
The link between salt and hypertension is well known, but the research demonstrated a brain mechanism by which salt affects blood pressure by altering neurons that release the hormone vasopressin.
Excessive salt interfered with the natural safety mechanism that prevented high blood pressure, when ingested over a long period.
Published in the journal Neuron, the research was led by McGill University, in Montreal, and involved researchers in four countries, showing the value of international research, Otago neuroendocrinologist and salt study researcher Associate Prof Colin Brown said.
''This was a truly international collaboration.''
Otago's contribution was testing the electrical activity of single brain cells in anaesthetised rats at the same time as recording their blood pressure. Only a handful of laboratories in the world were able to conduct that experiment, Prof Brown said.
Prof Brown said the research reinforced existing messages about salt intake, but did not change its safety profile.
''It doesn't change that fundamental message. But it does give us an explanation of why.''
Prof Brown said the research could possibly be used to develop drugs for certain kinds of hypertension, but warned it did not mean the development of a ''wonder drug''.
Hypertension was like cancer, in the sense that it had many types, he said.
(Article originally appeared in Otago Daily Times, 27 January 2015)
Congratulations to Dr Matt Bevin, Justine Fuller and Dr Pete Jones, who received awards at the 2014 Otago School of Medical Sciences (OSMS) Awards ceremony on 17th December.
Over 150 people attended the event, which was combined with the School's Christmas function, to celebrate achievements of both staff and students.
Dr Matt Bevin, Professional Practice Fellow, was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Fellow/PPF in the Professional Programmes. This was awarded in recognition of his sustained outstanding delivery and leadership since 1998 in the Department of Physiology. Matt teaches into the medical curriculum as a main focus, but also makes key contributions to other professional programmes through involvement in our HUBS 192 and PHSL 251 papers.
Justine Fuller, Assistant Research Fellow in Prof Brian Hyland's laboratory, was awarded the Focused Contribution Research Support Award. Justine took up an ARF position in Prof Hyland's electrochemistry laboratory in 2005, and is single-handedly responsible for all aspects of the functioning of his laboratory.
Dr Pete Jones, Senior Lecturer, received the Emerging Researcher Award for his impressive research, publications, research funding and leadership since his appointment in 2010. Two papers to highlight in particular are his co-authorship of papers in Nature Medicine earlier this year, and Circulation Research in 2013. Pete has also been awarded a number of research grants since his appointment, including a Royal Society of NZ Marsden Fast Start Award, and two National Heart Foundation of NZ project grants (one as PI and one as co-applicant).
Dr Karl Iremonger, of the Department of Physiology, has been awarded this extremely prestigious prize, which provides significant financial support for his research.
Dr Iremonger has discovered a new brain cell structure and communication system, setting the stage for more targeted therapies for neurological diseases. He has used cutting-edge technology to help identify brain cells that function differently to what has been previously accepted. His prize is worth $200,000, with $150,000 to be used for further research.
Dr Iremonger was presented with the award on Tuesday at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.
For more information about Dr Iremonger's exciting research, see http://www.pmscienceprizes.org.nz/winners-2014-the-prime-ministers-macdiarmid-emerging-scientist-prize/
On the 25th and 26th of November, the Department of Physiology held two major academic events.
First, we hosted the first HeartOtago cardiovascular symposium, entitled "Bench to Bedside and Back: New Advances in Cardiovascular Research". This symposium featured an impressive group of researchers and clinicians from the cardiovascular field. Local researchers from the Departments of Physiology, Anatomy, Pharmacology, and Medicine participated in the event, alongside visiting scientists from around New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Sweden. Opening comments by Vernon Ward, the newly appointed Dean of Otago School of Medical Sciences, led the symposium to a strong start that continued throughout the two day program. With an attendance of over 90 participants and an impressive array of speakers, the event was a great success for the Department of Physiology and HeartOtago.
After the symposium closed, the Department of Physiology continued its hosting duties by welcoming Donald Bers of University of California, Davis as the 2014 Sir John Eccles Distinguished Lecturer. Professor Bers spent the beginning of the week meeting with staff and students from the department. His visit culminated in an outstanding lecture covering his contributions to the field of calcium signaling in cardiac function and disease. Professor Bers extended his gratitude to the Department of Physiology for hosting his visit and made special mention of the impressive work being led at the University of Otago and throughout New Zealand.
Congratulations to Dr Karl Iremonger from the Department of Physiology who is the recipient of one of two Health Research Council (HRC) Sir Charles Hercus Fellowships.
The Fellowships are extremely prestigious and he will use the four-year fellowship, valued at $489,062, to examine effects of chronic stress on the brain.
Christina Gordon was also awarded an HRC Maori Health Research Summer Studentships. She will work in the Department of Physiology over the summer under the supervision of Dr Daryl Schwenke.
We have had outstanding success in this year's Royal Society of NZ Marsden funding round.
The Marsden Fund is extremely competitive with only 8.3% of preliminary proposals being funded. We would like to congratulate the following Physiology staff who have been awarded Marsden funding:
The Department of Physiology would like to introduce Dr Alex Tups (Senior Lecturer) and Dr Karl Iremonger (Lecturer) who both joined the Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience (CMN) research focus group on 1st October.
Alex has joined us from the Philipps University of Marburg in Germany. His current research focuses on investigating the neuroendocrine mechanisms that regulate body weight and glucose metabolism. Furthermore his laboratory characterises molecular pathways that may link the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer"s disease. The ultimate goal is to identify pharmacological and nutritive substances that target these pathways to develop novel treatments for nutrition related ailments.
Karl has been in the Department since February 2010 when he was employed as a Postdoctoral Fellow then as a Research Fellow. Karl had already done a BSc in Physiology and a BPhEd with Honours at Otago before doing his MSc and PhD at the University of Calgary, Canada. Karl’s laboratory studies how neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus control the body’s response to stress. His research utilises electrical recordings and live cell imaging techniques to understand how PVN neurons process information and control stress hormone levels in the body.
The 100th anniversary of Gallipoli inspired Alison Heather to compete in the Dunedin marathon and to qualify for an ultra marathon honouring the Anzac legacy.
Heather finished in 4 hr 29 min 52 sec, and now has the opportunity to compete in the Anzac Ultra 435 km event over the Canberra Centenary Trail in April.
She hopes to honour her grandfather, Graham Heather, who served with Anzac forces during World War 2, by running in the ultra event. "This race will mean a lot to me" she said.
"To think about the hardship and sacrifice these war heroes, like my grandfather, made for our countries inspires me to do a race of a distance that I have never achieved before".
Heather was both in Australia but has relocated to Dunedin to take up a chair as Professor of Physiology at the University of Otago.
The Anzac Ultra is limited to 320 runners, of whom just 50 will have the opportunity to contest the full 435 km distance. The remainder of the field will join in the event at different stages for either the 290 km or 145 km sections.
"I'm hoping I'll be allowed to compete in the 290 km," Heather said.
Already this year, she has completed two full ironman events (3.8 km swim, 180 km bike, 42.2 km run). She finished sixth in her age group at Challenge Wanaka in January, taking 14 hr 12 min 53 sec, and backed up in June, completing Ironman Australia in 13 hr 43 min 8 sec.
Heather plans to settle in Dunedin with partner Tim Garrett, the ambassador for FSHD (facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy), who has his own big plans. Garrett plans a solo expedition to the South Pole next year, to raise awareness of the muscle disorder.
(Article from the Otago Daily Times, 15/9/2014. Since the article was published, Alison Heather has had confirmation she will allowed to compete in the 290 km event.)
The Department of Physiology had a number of staff and postgraduate students participating in the Dunedin Marathon event on Sunday 14th September.
It was fantastic to so many people taking part in the various events. The Department had two people running the full marathon, 17 running the 1/2 marathon and one walking the 1/2 marathon - an awesome effort. All events ended in Port Chalmers, along a very scenic route.
The participants were decked out in our Physiology logo branded t-shirts. Many thanks to our sponsors - Acorn, Coherent, Lab Supply & Thermofisher, as well as PHL Medical who supplied us with the t-shirts at a great price. Their support enabled the Department to heavily subsidise the registration fee for our Physiology staff and students.
The Department hope to be wearing the t-shirts again in future events soon so watch this space…
Congratulations to Xander Seymour (PhD student supervised by Assoc Prof Colin Brown & Dr Rebecca Campbell) who was recently awarded the CNE PhD Prize.
The CNE PhD prize is open to all CNE 2nd year PhD students. Based upon their CV and progress, the top three 2nd Year PhD students were selected by the CNE Principal Investigators to enter an oral prize competition where they provide a 20 minute presentation with 10 minutes for questions. The presentations were held during the recent "Techniques in Neuroendocrine Research Workshop" organised by the CNE, and were judged by three internationally renowned neuroendocrinologists.
Xander Seymour from the Department of Physiology, was awarded top prize in what was an excellent field of candidates. Xander's PhD looks at the emergence of a regulation of oxytocin neurons by a peptide called kisspeptin. Oxytocin neurons are active at the time of birth and assist in the delivery of the newborn. Xander has shown that there is a neuroanatomical change in the projection of the kisspeptin neurons to the oxytocin neurons during pregnancy, which might regulate the oxytocin neuronal activity at the time of labour. In the long term, this research might lead to better management of pre-term labour in humans.
Xander was awarded a $5,000 prize ($4,000 of which is to go towards travel to an international conference) as well as the CNE PhD Trophy.
Queenstown Research Week was held from 23-29 August and showcased an exciting line-up of meetings, including the Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research (AWCBR), Medical Sciences Congress (MedSci), and Queenstown Molecular Biology (QMB) meetings.
A number of our PhD students were awarded prizes during the week:
The workshop was made up of staff and students from the Departments of Physiology & Anatomy, and a number of early-career neuroendocrinologists from around the world will be attending.
"Techniques in Neuroendocrine Research" ran from 9-14 August.
CNE staff delivered a series of technical lectures, and also plenary lectures were delivered by neuroendocrine researchers from around the world.
Otago was selected to host the workshop by the International Neuroendocrine Federation, and the course was also supported by the International Brain Research Organisation.
All lectures were in the Hutton Lecture Theatre at the Otago Museum. Details of the lectures are as follows:
Prof Gareth Leng, U Edinburgh. The hypothalamus; the beating heart of the brain Saturday 9 August 1pm
Prof. Dave Grattan, U. Otago. Hormone-induced plasticity in the maternal brain Monday 11 August 9am
Prof. Rich Simerly, USC. Visualizing development of limbic-hypothalamic neural architecture Tuesday 11 August 9am
Prof. Jaideep Bains, U. Calgary. Metaplasticity in stress circuits Wednesday 12 August 9am
Prof. Scott Sternson, Janelia Farm. Hypothalamic circuits and motivational mechanisms for hunger Thursday 13 August 9am
A. Prof. Greg Anderson, U. Otago. Elucidating the roles of a new peptide in neuroendocrinology: the RFamide story Thursday 13 August 10:30am
Congratulations to Dr Pete Jones and Dr Rajesh Katare, both of the Cardiovascular & Respiratory Focus Group in the Department of Physiology, who have been awarded two-year project grants.
Dr Pete Jones (with co-applicant Dr Jeff Erickson) was awarded $147,004 for his project “Novel Mechanisms for the Regulation of Cardiac Ca2+-Release Channel (RyR2) Activity in Models of Cellular Stress”. A major cause of cardiac dysfunction, arrhythmia and death is the disruption of coordinated Ca2+ signalling within the cells of the heart. However, how cardiac disease, stress and diabetes disturb Ca2+ signalling largely remains a mystery. A protein pivotal in regulating cardiac cell Ca2+ signalling is RyR2. Dr Jones' lab aims to find and characterise new pathways through which stress and diabetes alter the function of RyR2. This work will unravel the mechanism by which stress and diabetes leads to cardiac disease, and is critical for identifying new cellular targets for the next generation of cardio-protective drugs which are urgently required.
Dr Rajesh Katare (with co-applicants Drs Pete Jones, Regis Lamberts & Daryl Schwenke) was awarded $110,020 for his project "Genetic engineering of cardiac stem cells for the therapeutic regeneration of the diabetic heart". Stem cell therapy is gaining global interest as a next generation of drug treatment in patients with ischemic heart disease. However, this approach is limited in patients with diabetes due to the reduction in the available pool and functional deficit of the diabetic stem cells. Dr Katare's lab have recently identified the micromolecules which regulate the survival of stem cells and influence its differentiation in to cardiovascular cells. Importantly these molecules were altered in the stem cells from people with diabetes. This project will test if restoration of these micromolecules could improve the functional efficacy of the diabetic stem cells, which will eventually help in replacing the lost cardiovascular cells in the diabetic patients with ischemic heart disease.
Congratulations to Su Young Han, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physiology, who was awarded 1st prize at the Otago Medical School Research Society (OMSRS) Research Staff Speaker Awards on 9th July.
Dr Carol Bussey, Assistant Research Fellow in the Department, also gave an excellent presentation.
Su did her PhD in Physiology and now has a 3-year Postdoctoral Fellow position funded by the Royal Society of NZ Marsden Fund.
Su's presentation was entitled "Optogenetic control of arcuate nucleus kisspeptin neurons in vivo". A summary of her talk is below.
Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) is secreted in a pulsatile manner from GnRH neurons to drive the pulsatile release of luteinising hormone (LH). This pattern of GnRH and LH secretion is critical in normal fertility, however, the mechanism underlying this pattern of secretion is not well-understood. Recent studies have suggested that arcuate nucleus (ARN) kisspeptin neurons might be involved in generating pulsatile pattern of GnRH secretion. Utilising an emerging optogenetic technique, we aimed to investigate whether direct activation of ARN kisspeptin neurons could evoke LH pulses in the mouse.
Adeno-associated virus (AAV) carrying light-sensitive channel-rhodopsin-2 (ChR2) was injected bilaterally into the ARN of transgenic Kiss-Cre male mice. This results in the expression of ChR2 selectively in ARN kisspeptin neurons. To activate ARN kisspeptin neurons in vivo, an optical fibre was implanted into the ARN in these mice under isoflurane anaesthesia, and pulses of blue light (5 ms duration) were delivered at 2, 5, 10 or 20 Hz for 5 min. Tail-tip blood samples were collected before, during and after the delivery of light pulses to assay LH concentrations using an ELISA.
There was a significant increase in LH concentrations after stimulating ARN kisspeptin neurons. In particular, 10 and 20 Hz stimulation resulted in a significant, pulse-like rise in LH in the blood.
These results provide the first direct demonstration that the activation of ARN kisspeptin neurons can generate pulsatile LH secretion. The mechanism and pathway through which ARN kisspeptin neurons activate GnRH neurons remain to be elucidated.
News from the Dunedin Science Festival held from Saturday 5 July to Sunday 13 July.
Maddie took part in the Department of Physiology's experiment undertaken to distinguish flavours of jellybeans while being blindfolded and having her nasal passages clamped.
From the NZ Herald Thursday 10 July 2014:
Maddie Hannah's got great taste.
The eight-year-old earned the title of "super-taster" after triumphing at a jellybean science experiment, hosted at the New Zealand International Science Festival in Dunedin.
Maddie was fitted with a blindfold and a nose clamp by Helen Waddell and Rosalind Cook from the University of Otago's Department of Physiology and asked to pick the flavour of a jellybean.
Ms Waddell, a research assistant, said the point of the test was to explain olfaction — or how special cells in our nasal cavities allow us to taste and smell.
Eighty per cent of our flavour perception can be attributed to this process.
"So when you taste a flavour, your tongue is tasting very basic flavours like sweet, sour or bitter — but it's actually your nose that's going to be able to tell you whether it's banana or apple."
While most visitors to the university's science expo failed to distinguish between the jellybean flavours until they unclamped their nostrils, Maddie managed to guess each one correctly.
"She's obviously pretty good at tasting," said impressed mum Amber Hannah.
This year's festival, featuring 120 events and a line-up of international speakers on everything from great white shark conservation to the science of whisky, runs until Sunday.
Congratulations to Associate Professor Colin Brown from the Department Physiology, who is a co-PI with Professor Dave Grattan and Dr Christine Jasoni from the Department of Anatomy, on a successful Health Research Council of NZ (HRC) Programme.
The 5-year programme, worth nearly $5 million, is entitled “Healthy pregnancy, healthy babies”. The study will examine how the hormonal changes responsible for helping women’s brains adapt to pregnancy operate, and the serious complications that can occur for both mother and baby when these changes go awry.
The full article from the ODT can be found at www.odt.co.nz/campus/university-otago/305336/research-funds-hit-313m
Congratulations to Ivor Malahay and Chris Marshall, both of the Department of Physiology, who were co-winners at the Otago Medical School Research Society (OMSRS) Summer Student Speaker Awards held on 14th May.
Ivor (supervised by Assoc Prof Fiona McDonald) and Chris (supervised by Dr Rebecca Campbell) are now doing postgraduate study in the Department, following 10-week studentships over the summer. Tim Hall (supervised by Dr Daryl Schwenke) also did an excellent presentation on the night.
Ivor's talk was entitled "COMMD10 is important for zymogen granule formation in AR42J pancreatic acinar cells". Pancreatitis is a disease caused by abnormal function of the pancreas, affecting up to 2.8 million people a year worldwide. This is due to abnormal release and degradation of zymogen granules which store digestive enzymes in the acinar cells of the pancreas. Ivor's summer project showed that a decreased COMMD10 expression in pancreatic acinar cells in culture resulted in decreased zymogen granule formation. This may help identify a process that leads to pancreatitis, and potentially assist in developing treatments for this disease.
Chris' talk was entitled "Measuring pulsatile luteinizing hormone secretion in a prenatal androgen treated model of polycystic ovarian syndrome". Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of infertility in women, is associated with elevated luteinizing hormone (LH) secretion. To date, the pulsatile secretion of LH has been impossible to measure in mice due to the volume of blood required for detection. Chris' summer project aimed to utilise newly developed techniques for sensitive detection of LH in mice, and to characterise LH pulse frequency in a prenatal androgen treated mouse model of PCOS. He found that LH pulse frequency was significantly increased in PCOS model mice compared with fertile controls, reflecting a phenotype that is similar to human PCOS, further validating the use of this model to better understand PCOS as a disease.
Emmet Power (PhD student supervised by Assoc Prof Ruth Empson and Dr Andrew Bahn) recently attended the Australian Course in Advanced Neuroscience (ACAN), held on North Stradbroke Island near Brisbane. ACAN is a three-week long intensive learning experience where leading New Zealand, Australian and overseas experts work with just 12 students in the theory and practise of neurophysiology and fluorescence imaging.
This year’s students were lucky enough to have Nobel Prize winning scientist Bert Sakmann on staff along with ACAN's regular faculty which includes John Bekkers, George Augustine and Cliff Abraham. While at the course, Emmet won the inaugural “Bert Sakmann Prize” for dendritic patching which was presented by the Nobel Prize winner himself.
Bert Sakmann shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Erwin Neher in 1991 for their work on the function of single ion channels in cells, and invention of the patch clamp.
A revolutionary new $1 million microscope will allow University of Otago medical scientists to peer into living brain cells for the first time, and to study the development of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's.
The university's newly-acquired ''multiphoton microscope'' applies a powerful but harmless infra-red light that ''sees into living organs and cells with unparalleled detail and speed'', officials said.
The microscope is the first of its kind in New Zealand and one of only a handful in the world. It was bought with funding from New Zealand Lottery Health and several internal Otago University sources.
Associate Prof Ruth Empson, who chaired an informal group which co-ordinated efforts to obtain the microscope, and Prof Richard Blaikie, the Otago deputy vice-chancellor, research and enterprise, yesterday spoke at a function to ''open'' the microscope.
The physiology department had driven this initiative and physiology was the scientific discipline that sought to understand ''how living things work'', Prof Empson said. Understanding how they worked was ''critical for fixing them'' and the knowledge, developed with the microscope, would ''help answer important questions in human health and diseases including stroke, arrhythmia, wound healing and irritable bowel disease,''she said.
Prof Empson, and fellow physiology researchers Dr Karl Iremonger and Dr Peter Jones, were among those who worked to acquire the microscope.
Prof Blaikie said the launch of the microscope highlighted the university's commitment to investing in state-of-the-art scientific equipment to enhance the world-leading research.
This ''powerful new tool'', housed at the Otago Centre for Confocal Microscopy, would allow researchers to ''look at the microscopic intricacies of living systems in literally a brand new light'', he said. The microscope would be used to image a wide variety of living tissues and animal organs including the brain, skin, lungs, gut and lymph nodes.
Prof Empson, who is also a member of the university's Brain Health Research Centre, said it was ''incredibly exciting'' that the microscope had now arrived, and new insights would result. Being able to see deep into a ''previously impenetrable structure like the brain'', and measure its electrical activity, would ''revolutionise our understanding of how complex networks of brain cells'' used electrical impulses to communicate with each other, she said.
Article curtesy of the Otago Daily Times, and can be accessed at the following URL: http://www.odt.co.nz/campus/university-otago/299116/new-scope-observe-critical-living-tissues
Understanding more clearly what causes loss of muscle mass in old age could help some older people live happier, more productive lives. That is the view of University of Otago MSc physiology student John Brady.
John recently received a $6000 Hope-Selwyn Foundation scholarship to support research he is undertaking on the role of nerve degeneration in the decline of muscle mass. John has also received an Otago Physiology Department scholarship. He noted that everyone over the age of 65 experienced some weakness resulting from muscle loss.
This loss of muscle and strength was known as sarcopenia and was a ''major contributor'' to progressive frailty, loss of wellbeing and independence, falls and eventually to death. More use of muscles meant more protection against sarcopenia in old age but it was unclear why this was the case.
Sarcopenia had become ''an increasingly important issue'', because people were living longer and many were becoming increasingly dependent as they aged.
John is investigating what is believed to be one of the main causes of sarcopenia - nerve degeneration. His hypothesis was that relatively inactive muscles produced very little of a brain support substance known as neutrophin. This contributed to the death of associated nerves, causing progressive muscle shrinking.
Identifying the mechanism involved was important because this could ''provide a therapeutic target''.
Some kind of antioxidant medication could be developed to preserve the muscle's ability to support its nerve.
It would also be ''really valuable'' to find more effective ways to break a downward spiral resulting from older people becoming less physically active, losing strength and losing even more muscle mass, he said.
See article in the ODT at http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/298389/muscle-research-could-help-older-people
Congratulations to the 18 staff and postgraduate students in the Department of Physiology who took part in the Cancer Society NZ Relay for Life last weekend.
The event was held on campus from 8pm on Friday 4th April until 8am Saturday 5th April and included the candlelight ceremony and survivors lap which is an integral part of the Relay for Life.
The Department raised over $1,200 for the Cancer Society NZ which is an awesome effort.
The annual Young Investigator seminar will be presented this year by Dr Andrea Kwakowsky from the Department of Physiology.
Andrea graduated from the University of Eötvös Lorand University in Budapest with her doctorate in 2009. She joined the BHRC later in 2009 as a post-doc in Dr Istvan Abraham’s lab. Since then she has produced six excellent publications, five of them as first author, on non-classical oestrogen and GABA signalling, and neuroprotection properties.
Andrea's seminar is entitled “Estren treatment attenuates beta amyloid induced cholinergic and behavioural deficits” and will be held in the Hunter Centre rooms 120/121 on Wednesday 2 April at 12pm.
Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of neurodegenerative dementia. Several studies have suggested that estrogen ameliorates neural dysfunctions resulting from AD. However, estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is associated with a significant increase in risk of thrombosis, breast cancer, nephrolithiasis and stroke.
Since non-classical estrogen signaling plays a pivotal role in neuroprotection the selective activators of non-genomic estrogen-like signalling (ANGELS) hold great potential for novel ERT and therapeutic intervention for the prevention of age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as AD without unwanted side effects. Estren (4-estren-3α, 17β-diol) is an ANGEL with neuroprotective effects in vitro.
In this study, Dr Kwakowsky has examined the effect of estren treatment on Aβ1-42-induced cholinergic neurotoxicity and behavioural deficit using an in vivo AD mouse model.
The Department of Physiology would like to welcome our new Honours and Postgraduate Diploma in Science students who have joined us recently.
We have had a great uptake of students wishing to undertake 400-level study in the Department this year, which is fantastic. These students undertake a year of intensive research which results in a dissertation submitted at the end of the year. The group of students this year are doing either BMedSc(Hons), BSc(Hons), BBiomedSc(Hons) and PGDipSci.
The Department also welcomes our 3 new MSc students who are starting in March, all of which have undertaken Honours study in the Department last year. We are also excited about 7 new international PhD students who are joining the Department from February-April. They are coming from all parts of the globe which shows how competitive the Department of Physiology is at attracting high-quality international postgraduate students.
The Department extends a warm welcome to Professor Alison Heather, who has joined the Cardiovascular & Respiratory (CRP) research focus group recently.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Western societies. The major cardiovascular disease is atherosclerosis which is the build up of fatty lesions in the coronary arteries. These lesions can grow so large that they can occlude blood flow or else the lesions can rupture, creating a clot that can travel into small coronary branches and cause a heart attack. If the lesions form in the arteries that supply blood to the brain the clot can travel up into the brain and cause a stroke.
Alison's research team investigates how atherosclerosis is influenced by the sex hormones, androgens and estrogens. Their major focus is trying to understand why younger men suffer earlier onset and more severe disease than younger women. They are also trying to understand why estrogen-based hormone replacement therapy can have adverse cardiovascular effects in some women.
Given the strong emphasis on the sex hormones in the laboratory, Alison's research team has been driven to develop bioassays that can detect and measure androgens and estrogens. From this research, they are now heavily involved in developing assays that can detect designer androgens that are using in sports doping.
At the University of Otago, and within the Department of Physiology, there are strong cardiovascular and endocrine research teams that Alison hopes to be able to work closely with in addition to continuing her international collaborations with the ANZAC Research Institute, Heart Research Institute, University of Sydney and University of Technology, Sydney.
Alison is an avid promoter of a healthy lifestyle and she competes in Ironman Triathlons to promote the healthfulness of a balanced lifestyle. This is best viewed by visiting the website, www.sedhealth.com, where she uses the triathlons for fundraising efforts.
This week Professor Michael Welsh from the University of Iowa visited the Department of Physiology and delivered the 2013 Sir John Eccles Prestigious lecture entitled: "Pursuing the Pathogenesis of Cystic Fibrosis Lung disease."
Eccles was head of the Physiology Department and the body of work on neuronal transmission he carried out here was pivotal in his being jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1963.
In his lecture Mike talked about the development of a pig model of cystic fibrosis (CF) which has symptoms similar to that of people with CF. He showed beautiful data demonstrating how particles are cleared from the lungs through mucociliary clearance and how this is altered in CF, and in particular how a lowering of the pH in the CF pig lungs prevents bacterial killing. The latter work was published in 2012 in Nature (Pezzulo et al., Reduced airway surface pH imparis bacterial killing in the porcine cystic fibrosis lung. Nature 487:109-13, 2012).
To read more about Mike's research on cystic fibrosis and also on acid sensing ion channels see his lab website: http://www.healthcare.uiowa.edu/labs/welsh/index.htm
Crystal, who is supervised by Drs Daryl Schwenke and Pete Jones, was recently awarded top prize at the Otago Medical School Research Society (OMSRS) Hons/Master Speaker Awards
Crystal's presentation was entitled "Increased sympathetic activity in obesity may protect against pulmonary hypertension". Evidence suggests that obesity is protective against pulmonary hypertension (PH), a disease characterised by high blood pressure in the lungs. It is well established that pulmonary sympathetic nerve activity (pSNA) leads to dilation of the blood vessels in the lungs. Using in vivo electrophysiology, we were able to demonstrate that obese Zucker rats had a greater pSNA compared to their lean counterparts. We also showed that this pSNA was further elevated upon the development of PH. In order to assess the relative importance of pSNA in regulating pulmonary vascular tone, we performed microangiography, assessing the dynamic changes in vessel internal diameter once we blocked the protective effects of the pSNA. We observed a greater magnitude of pulmonary vessel constriction in the obese Zucker rats, with and without PH, compared to their lean counterparts. This finding is interesting as it indicates that pulmonary vascular tone is regulated differently in obesity. Specifically, our findings suggest that that pSNA plays a larger role in 'protecting' the pulmonary vessels from constriction in obesity, both in health and disease.
Crystal was one of 10 students chosen to present at the Awards. Two other students were from Physiology and also did excellent presentations - Cade Bedford (BBiomedSc(Hons) student supervised by Dr Steven Condliffe) and Ryan Johnstone (MSc student supervised by Dr Andrew Bahn).
Congratulations to Dr Jeffrey Erickson, Lecturer in Department of Physiology, who has been awarded a $300,000 grant over 3 years from the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund.
Dr Erickson's project is entitled "Identifying the mechanisms by which CaMKII regulates cellular signaling in the diabetic heart". The underlying problem of diabetes is an inability to control blood-sugar (glucose) levels. Consequently, diabetics become hyperglycaemic. This means they have high levels of glucose in their blood. The incidence of diabetes is rising in New Zealand and around the world and can lead to other health problems.
People suffering from diabetes are more than twice as likely to develop heart diseases compared with non-diabetics, and sudden heart failure remains the most common cause of death amongst those with the disease. However, the biological events that connect diabetes to heart diseases have not yet been determined.
Dr Erickson's groundbreaking research has been at the forefront of identifying links between hyperglycemia and heart diseases. While at the University of California, Davis, he discovered how hyperglycemia can lead to modifications of the protein CaMKII – the possible missing link between diabetes and heart failure.
Dr Erickson has been awarded a Marsden Fast-Start grant to further explore the implications of this important finding. In particular he will investigate how the modified CaMKII protein causes irregular heartbeat and also initiates a series of events that eventually cause heart cells to die.
Although this study focuses on the diabetic heart, the findings could have broader implications for other tissue types that express CaMKII, including the brain and kidneys.
(This article originally appeared on the Royal Society of New Zealand website on 29 October 2013)
Congratulations to Dr Jeff Erickson who is first author on the article published in the prestigious journal Nature. Dr Erickson started in the Department of Physiology in April this year.
In the Nature article, Erickson et al. describe a new pathway that links high levels of circulating glucose observed in diabetic patients to cardiac arrhythmia. This pathway is mediated by the protein CaMKII, an important signaling molecule that has been previously linked to heart failure. Dr. Erickson and his colleagues demonstrated that CaMKII activity is greatly increased in heart tissue from diabetic patients compared to non-diabetic patients. Further, arrhythmic events were significantly increased in an animal model of diabetes, while inhibition of CaMKII protected the diabetic heart from arrhythmia. These findings are a major advance in our knowledge of the mechanisms that mediate diabetic cardiomyopathy and could lay critical groundwork in the development of new clinical therapies for the prevention of heart disease in diabetic patients.
Erickson, J.R., Pereira, L., Wang, L., Han, G., Ferguson, A., Dao, K., Copeland, R.J., Despa, F., Hart, G.W., Ripplinger, C.M., & Bers, D.M. (2013). Diabetic hyperglycaemia activates CaMKII and arrhythmias by O-linked glycosylation. Nature, in press.
The article is from work undertaken in his previous position at the University of California Davis.
Congratulations to Simon de Croft (PhD student supervised by Professor Allan Herbison) who won the Otago Medical School Research Society (OMSRS) PhD Student Speaker Award last week.
Simon gave an excellent presentation entitled "Peptidergic intercommunication between kisspeptin neurons of the arcuate nucleus of the male mouse".
Fertility is regulated by a region in the region of the brain known as the hypothalamus. Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons of the hypothalamus release GnRH in a pulsatile manner that is essential for normal fertility. It has remained a mystery however, what the mechanism for generating this pulsatile output is. Recent evidence suggests that a population of kisspeptin-expressing neurons in the arcuate nucleus ARN that synthesise dynorphin and neurokinin B might be the neural locus for generating this pulsatile pattern of GnRH secretion. This hypothesis suggests that the interplay between dynorphin and neurokinin B signalling amongst ARN kisspeptin neurons would generate a pulsatile output that is relayed to GnRH neurons. Simon used electrophysiological techniques to examine how dynorphin and neurokinin B regulate ARN kisspeptin neurons. He found that dynorphin potently inhibits ARN kisspeptin neuron firing rate. In contrast, neurokinin B potently stimulates ARN kisspeptin neuron firing rate. This suggests that dynorphin/neurokinin B signalling amongst ARN kisspeptin neurons could function in an ‘off/on’ manner to generate a pulsatile output, resulting in pulsatile GnRH secretion.
Two other PhD students from the Department of Physiology, Priyakshi Kalita (supervisors Professor Rob Walker and Dr Andrew Bahn) and Mahsa Moaddab (supervisors Professor Brian Hyland and Associate Professor Colin Brown) also presented and both gave very good presentations.
Congratulations to Dr Susan George (Medical Teaching Fellow) and Dr Matt Bevin (Professional Practice Fellow) who have received Otago University Medical Students' Association (OUMSA) Awards for 2013.
Dr George was awarded the Best Tutor for the ELM2 course for 2nd year medical students. Dr Bevin was awarded Best Lecturer Awards for both the ELM2 and ELM3 medical courses.
Both Dr George and Dr Bevin have received OUMSA Teaching Awards in previous years, which is a great indication of the high quality teaching staff in the Department of Physiology.
Breakthrough University of Otago research could enable advances in treating infertility and the development of new contraceptive drugs, Dunedin neuroscientist and lead researcher Professor Allan Herbison from the Department of Physiology says.
Published in the journal Nature Communications, the research explains the role played by a protein called kisspeptin. It was already known to be critical to fertility, but the Otago researchers showed kisspeptin acted in the brain.
''We've known that kisspeptin was important, but we didn't know where it was acting. Was it acting in the ovaries? Was it acting in the pituitary? Was it acting in the brain?
''We even know exactly which cells it's working in in the brain,'' Prof Herbison said.
The discovery could allow the development of contraceptive drugs to act directly on the part of the brain controlling fertility.
It was unclear whether it would still need to be taken daily, but it would be an important alternative to the hormone oral contraceptive pill. The findings were likely to have a more immediate impact in the field of infertility research.
Kisspeptin was already being experimented with ''rather gingerly'' to trigger the reproduction system, and also to improve IVF treatment.
The overseas researchers conducting the studies would be greatly assisted by the explanation of how kisspeptin acted.
''Our new understanding of the exact mechanism by which [the protein] kisspeptin acts as a master controller of reproduction is an exciting breakthrough which opens up avenues for tackling what is often a very heart-breaking health issue.
''Through detailing this mechanism, we now have a key chemical switch to which drugs can be precisely targeted,'' Prof Herbison said.
The team discovered the cellular location of signalling between kisspeptin and its receptor, Gpr54, and demonstrated it occurred in a small population of nerve cells in the brain called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons.
The researchers studied mice that lacked Gpr54 receptors in only their GnRH neurons, and found they did not undergo puberty and were infertile. The mice could be restored to normal fertility by inserting the Gpr54 gene into just the GnRH neurons.
Targeting kisspeptin could also be useful for treating diseases such as prostate cancer which were influenced by sex steroid hormone levels in the blood.
The research was assisted by collaboration with the laboratory of Gunther Schutz at Heidelberg University, Germany, where one of the mouse models was generated.
The work was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand, and the former Ministry of Science and Innovation.
''We are delighted to have published this work in one of the top scientific journals, and also to be able to maintain the leading role of New Zealand researchers in understanding fertility control,'' Prof Herbison said.
(This article originally appeared in the Otago Daily Times on 21 September 2013)
Eleven members of the Physiology Department took on the Dunedin Cadbury Marathon event on Sunday, September 8th.
Most opted for the half marathon distance, with one brave individual taking on the full marathon- well done Zoë Jaquiery! The team was highly visible in Physiology Team t-shirts sporting our logo thanks to support from the department and our sponsors. It was a beautiful day for the event and everyone was still smiling at the end- Well done team!
Congratulations to two of our BSc (Hons) students - Helen Waddell (supervisor Dr Pete Jones) and Nathan Hamer (supervisor Dr Regis Lamberts) who were awarded prizes in Queenstown recently.
Helen won the QMB Heart Theme Student Poster Prize with her poster "Oxidation of the cardiac Ryanodine receptor reduces the threshold for spontaneous Calcium release". Nathan was awarded 2nd place in the same competition for his poster "Differences in right atrial and left ventricular function in isolated trabeculae".
Both students are part of the Department's Cardiovascular & Respiratory Physiology research focus group.
Congratulations to Simon de Croft (PhD student supervised by Professor Allan Herbison) who was awarded the Physiological Society of New Zealand (PSNZ) Hubbard Prize at Medical Sciences Congress held in Queenstown last week.
The award is given for excellence in studies towards a PhD and involves giving an oral presentation at the conference. Simon's presentation was entitled “Elucidating the properties of arcuate nucleus kisspeptin neurons through electrophysiology”. Special neurons known as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons are the principle output neurons in a complex neural network that controls fertility. Recent evidence shows that neurons that synthesize kisspeptin are very important components of this network. Kisspeptin neurons in the arcuate nucleus (ARN) of the hypothalamus are thought to be key players in modulating the specific pattern of GnRH release. In Simon's PhD, he has examined the function of ARN kisspeptin neurons by directly measuring their electrical activity using electrophysiological techniques. The results from his PhD are some of the first direct electrical recordings of ARN kisspeptin neurons.
The Department of Physiology would like to welcome Dr Jeffrey Erickson (Lecturer) and Dr Martin Fronius (Senior Lecturer) to our team.
Jeff joined our Cardiovascular & Respiratory Physiology research focus group in August from the University of California, Davis. His current research focuses on investigating the molecular mechanisms that underlie structural heart disease and heart failure, particularly in the context of aging and diabetes. He has developed a number of novel tools to assess cardiac signaling pathways, which will contribute to our understanding of cardiac pathology as well as to future clinical therapies for heart disease. Jeff’s scientific theme compliments existing research strengths both within the Department of Physiology and throughout the University of Otago.
Martin has joined the Membrane & Ion Transport research focus group this month from University Giessen. His research focuses on characterising ion transport processes in lung epithelia that are relevant for diseases such as cystic fibrosis and pulmonary edema. Further, he investigates the molecular mechanisms of how mechanical forces regulate the activity of ion channels. Knowledge gained by his work will improve the understanding of how mechanical forces contribute to blood pressure regulation and touch/pain detection.
The cerebellum has to be one of the most beautiful and organised parts of the brain! but we all take it very much for granted, until of course it fails to function.
In normal healthy adults, the cerebellum enables us to effectively interact with our ever-changing sensory environment by continuously monitoring and adjusting our movements. Its function means we don’t trip on the step that we cross every day and if we unexpectedly trip on a stone in the street, we don’t fall over; if the cerebellum starts to fail, we are more liable to make movement errors, less able to learn new motor tasks and ultimately the debilitating and untreatable disorder called ataxia ensues.
Recent work from Ruth Empson’s group in the Department of Physiology, published in the Journal of Neurophysiology and the European Journal of Physiology, has shown that key connections within the cerebellum need an exchanger called the sodium calcium exchanger to function properly. Normally, this exchanger uses energy to move two important ions; Na+ ions move in and Ca2+ ions move out of cerebellar brain cells when the exchanger activates. Unexpectedly, in this most recent work, Roome, Power & Empson find that the exchanger momentarily reverses, or switches its direction, but only in response to the type of very high frequency activation of the cerebellum that normally accompanies sensory stimulation. The switch to reverse gear means that for a very short period of time the exchanger allows Ca2+ ions to enter and Na+ ions to leave. Critically, the extra Ca2+ made available by this reverse gear is necessary to modify the behaviour and timing of one of the key sensory connections in the cerebellum. Preventing this switch is expected to disrupt normal cerebellar sensorimotor adjustments and indeed mice lacking the exchanger show movement deficits.
Chris Roome held a University of Otago PhD scholarship and is now a postdoctoral scientist at Okinawa Institute of Technology in Japan. Emmet Power holds a University of Otago PhD scholarship; both are continuing their passion for research into cerebellar physiology and behaviour.
In the recent Dean’s bequest funding round, Ruth Empson was awarded $12,530 to continue to identify how early changes in cerebellar connections may underlie the progression to ataxia. She and Emmet will be taking advantage of an innovative transgenic approach to study the onset of a dominant inherited form of ataxia, spinocerebellar ataxia, SCA1.
Congratulations to Zhe (Joe) Zhang, PhD student in the Department of Physiology (supervisors Drs Pete Jones & Ruth Empson) who has been awarded the University's Elman Poole Travelling Scholarship.
Joe will be studying at the University of Calgary, Canada for approximately 4 months towards the end of the year. His research focuses on regulation of cardiac Ca2+ release channel known as ryanodine receptor (RyR2), which plays a pivotal role in Ca2+ signalling in cardiomyocytes. Dysfunction of this protein can lead to aberrant Ca2+ release and subsequent heart disease, such as cardiac arrhythmias. Emerging evidence has indicated that the function of RyR2 is regulated by over 20 different proteins. His PhD work will shed light on the understanding of the regulatory effect of one regulator called histidine rich Ca2+ binding protein (HRC) on RyR2 and the associated role of HRC in cardiac arrhythmias.
The Scholarship is funded by the University of Otago and Dr Elman Poole who graduated from the University of Otago in 1950 with the degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. The scholarship provides funding to PhD students at Otago to study overseas during their PhD to gain experience or to use facilities not available at Otago and to further their subsequent work or career at Otago.
Pauline Campos from the Herbison Lab recently won the inaugural Centre for Neuroendocrinology (CNE) PhD Prize for her outstanding presentation.
The CNE PhD Prize is awarded to the most promising second year PhD student in the CNE and provides full funding to attend an international conference outside Australasia. Pauline's presentation was titled "Manipulating gonadotrophin-releasing-hormone neurons ... in vivo!" (P. Campos, B. Hyland, & A. Herbison).
Students were judged on the content and presentation of their individual projects. The main criteria being their progress so far, key results achieved with a justifiable conclusion and significance, and their future plans for the project. Professor Willis K. Samson of the School of Medicine Saint Louis University USA was the invited external judge, who praised the high standards of all four CNE PhD Prize candidates.
Congratulations to Associate Professor Colin Brown (Principal Investigator) and named investigators, Dr Victoria Scott and Gregory Bouwer who have received funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.
Assoc. Prof. Brown and his team have been awarded $1,003,783 for their 3-year project "Central regulation of natural birth processes".
The overall aim of their research is to determine the biological processes required for normal pregnancy to assist in the development of alternative strategies to manage problem pregnancies. The hormone oxytocin is secreted from the brain to contract the uterus for delivery of the baby. Inappropriate oxytocin secretion contributes to problem pregnancies, including preterm delivery. They have discovered that central administration of a newly-identified neuropeptide, kisspeptin, excites oxytocin-secreting cells only in late pregnancy. This project will genetically manipulate kisspeptin receptors on oxytocin cells to determine whether central kisspeptin excitation of oxytocin cells is required for successful delivery.
University of Otago researchers gained $15.5 million in funding from the latest Health Research Council funding round.
The Department of Physiology was out in force at the Otago Peninsula Challenge on Sunday, 12th May 2013.
We had a team of forty participants, all decked out in Physiology logo branded t-shirts, riding, walking and running through the magnificent scenery of the Otago Peninsula. We were a very visible crowd on the course in our team shirts and there was a great response from the organisers and other participants alike. Amongst our numbers we had some standout performances by Cade Bedford (BBiomedSc(Hons) student) and Linda McNeill (HUBS Secretary), who both placed second in their divisions in the short run - Open Men and Veteran Women, respectively. A huge thank you to our sponsors (Coherent, Thermo Fisher, Acorn, PHL Medical, Life Technologies and Lab Supply), and to the Department for making this event possible. Watch this space for future Physiology Team events...
Congratulations to Associate Professor Grant Butt and Mrs Dianne Galvin who received awards at the Otago School of Medical Sciences (OSMS) Awards 2012 ceremony on Thursday 7th February.
Assoc. Prof. Grant Butt was awarded the Distinguished Academic Teacher 2012. He received the award because of his excellence in course development, innovation, leadership and delivery. When teaching to third-year students, Grant bases his teaching around novel research that builds on the basic principles taught at first and second years, while demonstrating to the students to the students the value of lifelong learning. It is this approach which has meant that Grant receives excellent feedback from his students in his teaching evaluations.
Mrs Dianne Galvin was one of two recipients awarded the Distinguished Research Support Award 2012. Dianne is the Department's Financial Manager and has the critical role of administering all research grants (over $15M in research contracts) which is an extremely complex process. Dianne is well-deserving of this award because of her attitude in the face of difficult situations and her meticulous attention to detail. She is a long-serving member of the Department of Physiology.
Over 100 staff and students attended the awards ceremony.
Congratulations to Aye Thaung, MSc student (supervisors Drs Regis Lamberts & Daryl Schwenke) from the Department of Physiology.
Aye has won the Physiological Society of NZ Mary Bullivant Oral Prize for her presentation at the Combined meeting of the Australian Physiological Society, the New Zealand Physiological Society and Australian Society of Biophysics in Sydney from 2-6 December.
Aye’s presentation was entitled “Sympathetic Modulation of Cardiac Function in Diabetes – In Vivo and Ex Vivo Study”. The presentation was based on Aye's Masters project looking at cardiac sympathetic nerve activity in diabetic rats.
Congratulations to Professor Allan Herbison, Department of Physiology, who has been awarded a 3-year $950,000 grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund.
Prof. Herbison's project entitled "Recording the electrical activity of GnRH neurons in vivo" aims to characterize the electrical activity of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons which are the key cells controlling fertility in all mammalian species. Using a novel surgical approach, Prof. Herbison and his team have recently discovered that GnRH neurons can be accessed from the base of the brain in anaesthetised GnRH-green fluorescent protein transgenic mice. This provides the first-ever opportunity to make electrical recordings from GnRH neurons in vivo. Understanding how these cells control fluctuating levels of gonadotropin hormones in the blood will provide long-awaited foundations for developing new strategies for the beneficial regulation of fertility in humans.
At the OMSRS meeting on 26th September, 10 students from the University of Otago were selected to present their research.
Two were from the Department of Physiology - Su Young Han (PhD student supervised by Assoc Prof Colin Brown) and Malinda Tantirigama (PhD student supervised by Dr Ruth Empson).
Both students gave excellent talks and the standard of presentations on the night was very high. Congratulations to Su Young Han from Physiology who was the winner of the Award, which includes a $1,000 prize. The title of Su's talk was "Induction of hypertension blunts baroreflex inhibition of vasopressin neuron activity in inducible hypertensive rats".
Vasopressin is synthesized from hypothalamic magnocellular neurosecretory cells (MNCs) in the paraventricular and supraoptic nucleus to promote water retention and increase blood pressure. In many hypertensive patients, circulating level of vasopressin is paradoxically increased, which will exacerbate hypertension via water retention. Hence, the lack of a normal suppression of vasopressin levels in the face of increasing blood pressure might contribute to the development and persistence of hypertension.
Su's PhD project focuses on how vasopressin MNCs and their inputs adapt to the development of hypertension. In vivo electrophysiological recordings of vasopressin cell activity was made in anaesthetized Cyp1a1-Ren2 (inducible hypertensive) rats at day seven of inducing moderate hyperension (mean arterial blood pressure of 140 mmHg). Su found that in hypertensive rats, the activity of vasopressin MNCs increased, and the normal supression of their activity by acute increase in blood pressue (by baroreflex activation) was blunted. This suggests that reduced baroreflex gain might exacerbate hypertension, in part, by increasing vasopressin-induced vasoconstriction and water retention.
Congratulations to all our students who were part of the Student Poster Competition at the Division of Health Sciences Research Forum, held at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery from 17-18 September.
A special mention should go to Mahsa Moaddab (PhD student supervised by Prof Brian Hyland & Assoc Prof Colin Brown) and Aye Thaung (MSc student supervised by Dr Regis Lamberts & Dr Daryl Schwenke) who were short-listed for the final of the Student Poster Competition. Those shortlisted presented their poster in a 1-2 minute talk at the Forum on 18th September.
A first prize of $750 plus three prizes of $250 were awarded. Congratulations to Mahsa who was awarded one of the $250 prizes.
The title of Mahsa's poster was "Central oxytocin enhances morphine-induced conditioned place preference in the rat" and the title of Aye's poster was "Direct recording of cardiac sympathetic nerve activity in vivo and of myocardial responsiveness ex vivo in diabetic rats".
Queenstown Research Week 2012 is the biggest science event in New Zealand this year, bringing together the Queenstown Molecular Biology Meetings, the New Zealand Medical Sciences Congress and the Australasian Winter Brain Meetings and Molecular Modelling 2
Congratulations to the following postgraduate students who were awarded prizes (with details of their research):
Dr Sam Lucas has recently returned home to Dunedin from an international scientific expedition conducted at the Pyramid Laboratory near Everest base camp.
Dr Sam Lucas, Research Fellow (Department of Physiology) has recently returned home to Dunedin from an international scientific expedition involving researchers from six countries who spent three weeks at the Pyramid Laboratory, near Everest base camp, at an altitude of 5050m. Experiments mimicking the symptoms and outcomes that occur in respiratory disease and chronic heart failure, as well as sleep apnoea were carried out. Dr Lucas said they were looking at the role of brain blood flow in breathing stability and how improved brain blood flow may prevent sleep apnoea. Untreated sleep apnoea can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke.
This was Dr Lucas' second visit to Everest. The expedition took two years of planning and after flying in from Kathmandu, eight days to walk from Lukla to the Pyramid Laboratory. At the altitude level of the lab you only have about half the oxygen in your blood that you do at sea level and this makes for a very challenging work-place environment.
The results were logged on a device called the PowerLab, which converts electrical signals from instruments recording heart rate, breathing, brain blood flow, etc., into digital data. The predecessor of the PowerLab was created in Dunedin with the assistance of our very own Physiology Department by ADInstruments to supersede old paper chart recorders. ADInstruments still has its research and development office in Dunedin, and their equipment is now used all around the world.
Congratulations to Dr Jenny Clarkson, winner of the Otago Medical School Research Society (OMSRS) Research Staff Speaker Award
At the 212th scientific meeting of the OMSRS on the 27th June, four postdoctoral research staff presented research which they have conducted at Otago University. Congratulations to Dr Jenny Clarkson from the Department of Physiology who was chosen as the recipient of the award, which includes a $1,000 prize. The title of Jenny's talk was "Gonadotropin-releasing hormone and G protein-coupled receptor-54 signaling are required to establish the sexually dimorphic brain of mice". Jenny presented the results of work that she has been conducting to understand what triggers male and female brains to develop differently.
Dr Clarkson is a member of Professor Allan Herbison's laboratory.
Congratulations to Professors Allan Herbison and Brian Hyland from the Department of Physiology, who have gained significant funding from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.
Professor Herbison has been awarded $4.8m for a new 5-year programme “Neural Control of Fertility”. The programme will be led by Prof. Herbison, Dr Rebecca Campbell and Dr István Ábrahám, and will involve several other research staff in the Department of Physiology. The programme aims to work out the mechanisms underlying the brain’s control of fertility and will help provide the foundation for designing new therapies to help infertile couples and safer, more effective, contraceptives.
Professor Hyland has been awarded a 3-year project grant “Restoring thalamocortical activity to treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms”. Prof. Hyland will be working with his co-PIs, Dr Louise Parr Brownlie (Department of Anatomy) and Dr Stephanie Hughes (Department of Biochemistry) on studies of brain activity in normal and in animal models of Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's disease produces difficulties with movement, and is currently treated with drugs and in some cases with brain stimulation. The goal of this research is to identify new approaches to brain stimulation treatments to best restore normal brain activity and thus movement, with minimal side effects. If successful, the long term goal is to improve treatment options for patients with Parkinson's disease.
Researchers from across the University’s Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington campuses were awarded more than $27m.
Professor David Paterson is a Professor of Cardiovascular Physiology and the Associate Head of the Oxford University Medical Sciences Division. He had a busy visit to the University of Otago recently.
Prof Paterson has had an outstanding academic career at the University of Oxford since 1986 and was appointed an Oxford Professor of Physiology in 2002. He is the author of more than 140 published papers. Prof Paterson visited the University from 1-8 May and was one of six new inductees to the Otago University School of Physical Education?s Wall of Fame on 4th May. Prof Paterson was a noted 400m runner when he lived in Dunedin. He was also invited to give the Graduation Address to science and biomedical students at the afternoon ceremony on Saturday 5th May. He is an Otago graduate himself with a qualification in physical education gained in 1979, before leaving New Zealand 32 years ago. In his address, Prof Paterson urged the graduates to ?go out and make a difference? when they went out into the world. During his visit, Prof Paterson gave a public lecture on 3rd May which focused on functional neurosurgery to map neural circuits in exercise control for cardiovascular regulation. He also gave two very informative workshops to Physiology staff and students on cardiorespiratory techniques and on publishing in The Journal of Physiology (he is its Editor-in-Chief), and a seminar to the Department of Physiology entitled ?Linking cyclic nucleotide regulation to the neural control of cardiac excitability: implications for therapeutic targeting?.
Dr Sam Lucas (Research Fellow) was interviewed with Dr Jim Cotter (Department of Physical Education) for One Network News on Wednesday 4th April 2012.
Dr Lucas is part of a team of Kiwi scientists heading to the world's highest laboratory on Mount Everest to test what happens to the body at high altitude.
The Everest K2 Centre for National Research is perched in the shadow of the world's highest mountain, at 5000 metres above sea level.
Dr Lucas and Dr Cotter are part of a group of four from the University of Otago who will be conducting tests on themselves while at high altitude.
They will monitor breathing, sleep and brain blood flow at high altitude as well as lung function, as part of studies that look at what causes acute mountain sickness and sleep apnoea (periodic breathing during sleep).
This is their second visit to Everest, and the group will be part of 23 medical researchers from around the world making the seven-day trek to the lab.
(This article originally appeared on the TVNZ website 4 April 2012)
The Department of Physiology warmly welcomes Dr Rajesh Katare, Senior Lecturer, to our Cardiovascular & Respiratory Physiology research focus group.
Dr Katare has recently moved to Dunedin from the University of Bristol, UK with his family. His current research focuses on identifying the underlying molecular mechanisms leading to cardiovascular complications in diabetes, development of novel treatment modalities to prevent diabetic cardiomyopathy, demonstration of gender differences in diabetes induced cardiac complications, treatment of ischaemic heart disease with stem cells from the saphenous vein and development of engineered heart tissue from resident cardiac stem cells.
As well as setting up his own research lab, Dr Katare will also provide teaching for the department's undergraduate papers as well as the medical curriculum.
The Otago School of Medical Sciences (OSMS) Awards 2011 ceremony was held on 2nd February, and two Department of Physiology staff members featured as winners of major awards.
Professor Brian Hyland was awarded along with his co-authors the prize for the best OSMS paper published in 2011. This paper, Power fluctuations in beta and gamma frequencies in rat globus pallidus: association with specific phases of slow oscillations and differential modulation by dopamine D1 and D2 receptors, by C. Dejean, G. Arbuthnott, JR Wickens, C. Le Moine, T. Boraud and B.I. Hyland, was published in the Journal of Neuroscience 31, 6098-107. The work arose from a project co-funded by the Neurological Foundation of New Zealand and the New Zealand Health Research Council, and involved both inter-departmental ( Dept Anatomy, Prof. Jeff Wickens) and international collaborations (Profs Arbuthnott & Wickens,Okinawa, Japan; Profs Le Moine & Boraud, Bordeaux, France), The reviewers commented that "this manuscript is a very thoughtful contribution to the field's perspective on the role of dopamine in modulation of oscillatory activity in awake animals". The Journal of Neuroscience has an impact factor of 7.3 and is considered the primary location for the best quality full-length articles in the field of neuroscience.
Mr Nairn Smith was awarded the Sustained Research Support Award in recognition of his huge contribution to the success of the Department of Physiology over a period of 46 years. Nairn joined the Department in 1965 and has been an important part of facilitating the research and teaching outputs of initially 13 staff and now of nearly 100 staff and over 40 postgraduate students.
In addition to the major prizes, the OSMS also awarded certificates to staff and students who had received national or international awards for their achievements, and many Physiology staff and students were awarded certificates.
Inaugural Department of Physiology Sir John Eccles Lecture delivered to packed audience.
Professor Robert Steiner of the University of Washington, Seattle gave the inaugural Department of Physiology Sir John Eccles Lecture to a packed audience on 30th January 2012. Professor Steiner is a world expert in the field of reproductive neurobiology and gave a fascinating insight into the discovery and role of the neuropeptide kisspeptin in the control of reproduction. Professor Steiner spent three days in the Department of Physiology holding further seminars and numerous valuable discussions with staff, post-doctoral scientists and students.
Congratulations to Linda McNeill, Secretary for the Human Body Systems (HUBS) papers, for being a recipient of a Disability Information and Support Appreciation Award.
These Awards recognise staff who offer exceptional support to the Disability Information and Support (DI&S) office and the students that they work with. Linda was nominated and selected as a recipient of the award by DI&S staff. This is the first year that DI&S have introduced the Appreciation Awards.
Ten students were selected to present their research on 9th November at the OMSRS meeting, two of which were from the Physiology Department.
Yeri Kim (BBiomedSc (Hons) student supervised by Dr Ruth Empson) and Aye Thaung (BBiomedSc (Hons) student supervised by Dr Regis Lamberts) both gave excellent talks.
Congratulations to Yeri who was awarded 2nd prize at the meeting, which includes a $250 prize. Yeri's talk was entitled "Alpha 7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors contribute to cerebellar excitatory synaptic transmission". The alpha 7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors are expressed at parallel fiber to Purkinje neuron synapse and the activation of these receptors significantly contribute to cerebellar excitatory transmission. These findings have wider implications for how cholinergic inputs influence cerebellar processing.
1st prize was awarded to Mike Fleete in the Department of Anatomy.
Congratulations to Associate Professor Fiona McDonald who has received a prestigious Fulbright NZ Senior Scholar Award to study in the United States next year.
Professor McDonald will travel to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas to undertake studies, from January, into the as yet unknown function of a protein named COMMD10. She aims to find out where COMMD10 is usually located in the body's cells and to clarify its normal role.
Professor McDonald said she was "tremendously excited" and "highly appreciative" of the support the Fulbright programme was providing for her research.
Born in Roxburgh, she attended St Hilda's Collegiate School, Dunedin, and gained a BSc (Hons) degree at Otago University and a PhD at Oxford University. She intends to spend most of next year studying in Dallas, and will be accompanied by her husband, Graham Cowles, and their three children.
Fulbright senior awards provide financial support ranging from $US9750 ($NZ12,129) to $US32,500 ($40,430) for study periods of three to five months, as well as return air fares and insurance.
(This article originally appeared in the Otago Daily Times 27 October 2011)
Congratulations to Professor Allan Herbison, Department of Physiology, who has been awarded the University of Otago's highest research honour, the Distinguished Research Medal for his internationally leading research into how the brain controls fertility.
Prof. Herbison is "hugely optimistic" drugs will be available within two or three years to help overcome some of the infertility problems encountered by couples, arising from the brain's control of fertility. About 30% of infertility cases were inked to this brain control mechanism, he said. "There are clinical trials going on all over the world" he added. The new therapies were based partly on some of the fundamental research which had been carried out since 2005 in his laboratory group, and at the University's Centre for Neuroendocrinology. Prof. Herbison founded and directs this centre, which is the largest neuroendocrinology research cluster in the southern hemisphere, and involves nine Otago University laboratories, eight in Dunedin and the other in Christchurch.
His investigations of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons and the molecule kisspeptin, both of which play crucial roles in the brain's master control of ovulation and other aspects of reproduction, have been published in leading international journals such as Neuron and Journal of Neuroscience.
The Invercargill-born medical graduate of Otago returned to the University's Department of Physiology in 2002, after 14 years of study and research in Britain and France, having gained his PhD at Cambridge University in 1991.
He was surprised and delighted with the award, which was "hugely good for morale" and reflected positively on the "outstanding team" of colleagues working with him, through his laboratory and the centre.
(This article originally appeared in the Otago Daily Times 3 October 2011)
Professor Allan Herbison gave his Distinguished Research Medal Lecture on 8th March 2012 which was entitled "A Lucky Kiss in Inner Space: Brain Control of Fertility". At the conclusion of his lecture, Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne presented Prof Herbison with the Distinguished Research Medal.
The Department of Physiology had one of its most successful years at Queenstown Research Week, held from 28th August - 2nd September.
Queenstown Research Week 2011 was the biggest science event in New Zealand this year and brought together many large research meetings including the Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting, the New Zealand Medical Sciences Congress and the Australasian Winter Brain Meetings.
Prizes awarded by the Physiological Society of New Zealand (PSNZ):
At the OMSRS meeting on 24th August, four Postdoctoral Fellows/Research Fellows presented their Otago research. Two were from the Department of Physiology - Dr Karl Iremonger and Dr Victoria Scott, who both gave excellent talks.
Congratulations to Dr Karl Iremonger who was chosen as the recipient of the Award, which includes a $1,000 prize. The title of Karl's talk was "An unusual site of action potential initiation in gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons" where he talked about using a combination of single cell electrophysiologial recordings and live cell confocal imaging to demonstrate that the site of action potential initiation is in the dendrite of GnRH neurons. Karl is a member of Professor Allan Herbison's laboratory.
Congratulations to Dr István Ábrahám, Dr Rebecca Campbell and Professor Allan Herbison who have all gained HRC project grant funding.
The projects that gained the awards were:
Dr István Ábrahám - "ANGELS as a potential treatment for Alzheimer's disease"
Dr Rebecca Campbell - "Understanding the neuroendocrine abnormalities of polycystic ovarian syndrome"
Professor Allan Herbison - "Understanding kisspeptin neurons"
Use the following links to learn more about the research being undertaken in the labs of Dr Ábrahám, Dr Campbell and Professor Herbison.
Congratulations to Kajsa Igelstrom, PhD student supervised by Dr Phil Heyward.
Kajsa recently completed the examinations aspects of her PhD thesis, and her thesis has been placed on the Division of Health Sciences List of Exceptional PhD Theses. Kajsa's thesis is the second thesis from the Department this year to be placed on this list (Carissa Murrell's thesis was also placed on the list in May).
A thesis is of exceptional quality when all three examiners of a candidate's thesis agree that the thesis is of an exceptional standard in every respect (research content, originality, quality of expression and accuracy of presentation) and is amongst the top 10% of theses examined, so is an excellent achievement.
Kajsa's thesis is entitled "Anticonvulsant actions of antidepressants in a novel model of acute seizures in vitro" and will be available online through the University library website in the coming weeks. Kajsa discovered and characterised a new brain slice model of epileptic seizures, and used this model to study antiepileptic actions of the "happy pill" Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. She found that these antidepressants blocked epileptic activity in brain slices, and showed that this effect was unrelated to its main serotonergic targets. Instead, they appeared to exert this action via inhibition of voltage-gated sodium channels, a mechanism shared by many antiepileptic drugs.
Congratulations to Professor Allan Herbison, winner of the Physiological Society of NZ 2011 Triennial Medal.
This medal is awarded in recognition of distinguished physiological research for the previous five years by a member of the PSNZ.
Over the last 5 years, Prof. Herbison and his team within the Department of Physiology and Centre for Neuroendocrinology at the University of Otago have shown that kisspeptin, a newly discovered signalling molecule, is the key to starting puberty and allowing ovulation to occur.
Kisspeptin was first discovered in 1996 by cancer researchers who named it after their hometown chocolate factory the Hershey Kiss. However, it wasnt until 2003 that kisspeptin was recognised to be important for the control of reproduction in humans. At that time, two large international studies found that humans with mutations in the kisspeptin receptor Gpr54 were unable to go though puberty and were infertile.
Prof. Herbison's team has subsequently discovered how and why kisspeptin is so important. It turns out that kisspeptin is a signaling molecule made in the brain where it activates the gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurons, the nerve cells directly responsible for altering hormone levels in the blood, to bring about puberty and ovulation.
Professor Allan Herbison, who is leading the HRC-funded study, said: "This is an exciting finding, as people have been trying to find out precisely how the brain controls puberty and ovulation for more than 30 years. This work now reveals a crucial link in the brain circuitry responsible."
The studies undertaken indicate that disorders affecting the signalling between kisspeptin and GnRH neurons will result in children going through puberty too early or too late and in women being unable to ovulate.
"Targeting drugs to this chemical switch to make it work properly may help some people who are infertile, while finding compounds that can block this switch could lead to new contraceptives," said Professor Herbison.
It could allow for ovulation to be induced in a more natural way than current therapies available to infertile women. "By targeting this switch, the subsequent processes could proceed normally, avoiding the need to induce ovulation by injection of large doses of the hormones themselves."
Infertility is an increasing problem for couples in western societies. More than 10 per cent of couple in New Zealand suffering from infertility and the research team is looking at new avenues of treatment.
"Our findings show that kisspeptin may be a promising area to focus future research efforts aimed at either enhancing or regulating human fertility," he said.
Dr Pete Jones (Lecturer) is one of only seven researchers chosen to represent Otago to highlight Otago research to Parliament in June.
He was selected from 30 speakers who presented at the O-Zone Group Symposium "For the Public Good" on 5th May with his talk "RyR2: the gateway to arrhythmia". The public event was deisgned to showcase the research of new and emerging researchers, and the standard of presentations was very high. Congratulations also to other staff who represented the Department and gave excellent talks (Dr Zoe Ashley, Dr Jenny Clarkson, Dr Andrea Kwakowsky, Dr Regis Lamberts and Dr Sam Lucas).
The Department would like to congratulate Aleisha Moore and Aye Thaung (BBiomedSc Hons students supervised by Rebecca Campbell and Regis Lamberts respectively) who have both been awarded the Dean's Prize for the Best Summer Project Report.
Aleisha's project was entitled "Investigating steroid hormone receptor expression in a mouse model of polycystic ovarian syndrome" and Aye's project was entitled "Is the obese mammalian competent of a fight/flight response? The adrenergic signal transduction pathway in obesity".
The Dean's Advisory Committee only made two awards for the best summer research projects and a further three Highly Commended awards, so Aleisha and Aye have done extremely well by receiving the top prize.
The awards will be presented to Aleisha and Aye at the OSMS Awards Ceremony in January next year.
Prostate Cancer Foundation chief executive Keith Beck presented a $104,000 research grant to Dr Andrew Bahn of the Department of Physiology.
The grant is to fund a two-year project examining the effects of chemotherapy drugs in the transport proteins in prostate tumours. The grant was announced to coincide with the start of Men's Health Week.
Congratulations to Carissa Murrell, PhD student co-supervised by Dr Phil Ainslie (Department of Physiology) and Dr Jim Cotter (School of Physical Education).
Carissa recently completed the examination aspects of her PhD thesis, and her thesis has been placed on the Division of Health Sciences List of Exceptional PhD Theses, a very prestigious accolade. A thesis is of exceptional quality when all three examiners of a candidate's thesis agree that the thesis is of an exceptional standard in every respect (research content, originality, quality of expression and accuracy of presentation) and is amongst the top 10% of theses examined, and we are very proud of Carissa's success. Well done!
Carissa's thesis is entitled Effects of Age, Fitness, and Exercise on the Control of Cerebral Blood Flow. Her research focused on the effects of age, fitness, and exercise on the control of blood flow to the brain. A compromised control of cerebral blood flow can result in syncope (fainting) and is a risk factor for cerebrovascular disease (e.g., stroke). Two major controllers of cerebral blood flow are blood pressure and blood carbon dioxide. Furthermore, age, fitness, and exercise all affect cerebral blood flow and its control. In her first study, Carissa assessed the control of cerebral blood flow in response to acute changes in blood pressure (due to a change in posture) in young and older trained and untrained individuals at rest and following exercise. In her second study, Carissa assessed the effect of 12 weeks of exercise training on the control of cerebral blood flow in response to changes in carbon dioxide at rest and during exercise in young and older individuals.
Carissa's thesis will be available online through the University library website in the coming weeks.
Having a Summer Research Scholarship opened up a lot more opportunities for me to explore my career potentials. I strongly recommend taking up this opportunity because it definitely gave me the confidence and skills essential for my future endeavors.