Yuanyuan (Kevin) Liu has been awarded an American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship for his research. Yuanyuan is a graduate student in Biological Sciences in Professor Ben Szaro’s lab. The funding is for 2 years with a $20,000/yr stipend. The title of his award is: "Studies of an RNA binding protein and its mRNA targets during central nervous system axon regeneration." Of 115 proposals received, Yuanyuan’s was among the top 6 percent. More specific details about Yuanyuan’s study may be found below.
After a stroke, patients frequently recover only partially due to the disruption of connections between neurons. In the human brain, axons which mediate these connections, generally fail to regenerate beyond the lesion site. In contrast, injured central nervous system neurons in lower vertebrates, such as the frog, can often fully regenerate. Yuanyuan Liu is using the regenerating optic nerve of the frog Xenopus laevis as a model system to study the mechanisms of successful central nervous system axon regeneration.
Recent studies have shown that a class of proteins known as RNA binding proteins plays an important role in controlling axonal growth-associated changes in protein expression during optic nerve regeneration. Yuanyuan’s project focuses on two related questions: 1) Does a particular RNA binding protein, called hnRNP K, play an important role during successful optic nerve regeneration? 2) If so, what RNAs does it bind to and how does it regulate them? To answer these questions, Yuanyuan will suppress the expression of hnRNP K during optic nerve regeneration and measure its effects on regeneration. Yuanyuan will also apply gene arrays to identify potential hnRNP K targets and then study how hnRNP K regulates them during optic nerve regeneration.
The long-term biomedical significance of this groundbreaking study is to promote the research of regeneration of damaged central nerve fibers after severe brain damage, for example, ischemic stroke and brain trauma. Such research will provide useful information for how to enhance axon regeneration after brain injury, which may eventually prove beneficial for the functional recovery of stroke patients.