PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Chile wins award in Brazil

PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Chile wins award in Brazil

Francesca Burgos, who completed her doctoral thesis at the Cellular Communications Laboratory of Drs. Lisette Leyton and Andrew Quest, academics of the Cellular and Molecular Biology Program of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences, was distinguished as a Young Talent in Life Sciences awarded by the Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of Brazil, in collaboration with General Electric Healthcare, whose most recent meeting was held between May 26 and 29 in Joinville, Santa Catarina, Brazil.

"Shortly after finishing my thesis, the opportunity to apply for this award was presented, in February 2018, to which researchers from all over South America send their background, because it is aimed at highlighting young talents in sciences from all over the region. The interested parties are mostly from Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Chile; this year there were about 180 applicants, from which five finalists are chosen: there I was, along with four other scientists from the universities of Sao Paulo and Campinas. We were invited to present at the annual meeting, in an oral session to be evaluated by a committee, and at the end of the congress the awards ceremony was held," explains Dr. Burgos.

His thesis focused oncharacterize, at the cellular and molecular level, the communication between neurons and astrocytes – that is, at the level of the Central Nervous System or CNS – that would occur after an injury to the CNSand that would be involved in generating the non-permissive environment for given by astrocytes axonal regeneration."When a person suffers a traumatic accident, stroke or neurodegenerative diseases, there is an increase in pro-inflammatory conditions. This causes glial cells, such as astrocytes, to change their protein profile at the membrane level, resulting in the formation of new protein-protein interactions between molecules on the surface of neurons and astrocytes that mediate cell-to-cell communication, ultimately resulting in inhibition of axonal regeneration and impediment in the restoration of synaptic connections. It has been described that this is one of the pathological events that occur in the CNS and that, depending on its severity, it can lead to the loss of cognitive or motor capacity; therefore, if an individual suffers a blow at the level of the spinal cord or brain, he may lose his speech or become quadriplegic."

In particular, adds the doctor, during "I focused on characterizing the communication between neurons and astrocytes that depends on the interaction between the neuronal membrane glycoprotein called Thy-1, and membrane astrocytic proteins, such as Sindecan-4 and integrin Alpha Beta 3, the latter whose levels are increased under pro-inflammatory conditions observed after an injury."That is, "we are trying to provide, from the point of view of basic research, information that allows us to expand knowledge regarding the molecular components of astrocytes that lead to the inhibition of axonal regeneration in the CNS after damage."

This project, he explained, was carried out with experimental techniques "in vitro, using cell cultures, both primary and cell lines, with which we managed to characterize how this protein-to-protein interaction promotes effects at the cellular level. But we also describe it at the biochemical level, using isolated recombinant proteins, defining for example the amino acids involved in each interaction and characterizing the binding parameters for each bond, as well as determining how these interactions respond to the action of mechanical forces and characterizing the energy profile of the dissociation process between these molecules, key information to understand how mechanical stimuli regulate cellular effects. resulting from communication between neurons and astrocytes."

Delve into research at the individual molecule level

In this phase they developed a collaboration with Dr. Christian AM Wilson, from the Faculty of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, "who performs molecula force spectroscopy, at the level of an individual molecule, thanks to a team called "optical tweezers" that is very innovative and made eh Chile, is unique in the country, and that delivers a lot of information regarding how proteins respond to mechanical action. In this way we managed to characterize the mechanical response of this protein-protein interaction that mediates cell communication and that was the basis of the work I presented in Brazil, thus beginning my interest in mechano biology".

This is the reason why Dr. Burgos joined Dr. Wilson's group for a few months, "studying a little more what protein mechanochemistry is, before doing a postdoc at the University of Berkeley, in California, in the laboratory of Dr. Carlos Bustamante, Peruvian, who is a full professor and pioneer in working in the area of single molecule biophysics, characterizing at that level how cells convert chemical energy into mechanical work through molecular engines highly specialized in various cellular processes such as transcription, translation and degradation of proteins. And none of this would have been possible without the learning and support of my mentors, Drs. Lisette Leyton and Andrew Quest."