Turcotte Engages in Faculty CNS Neurons Research

July 29, 2011 Sarah Schwartz

This summer, Biology major Paul Turcotte is working with Dr. R. Wesley Rose III, Assistant Professor of Biology, examining the distinct kinetics of the negative feedback mechanisms controlling the interferon gamma response in central nervous system (CNS) neurons.

As a sophomore, Turcotte asked Dr. Lauretta Bushar, Associate Professor and Chair of the Biology department, if he could get involved in faculty research. Bushar encouraged him to speak with all of the faculty members in the Biology department about their research and encouraged him to participate in the project he felt most passionate about. Turcotte felt most drawn to Rose’s work on the human body’s elimination of viral infections.

CNS neurons, the topic of Rose’s research, are a generally non-renewable cell population. Consequently, eliminating viral infections of CNS neurons presents a challenge to the immune system, because immune mechanisms that result in the death of infected neurons would be detrimental to the host. Therefore, immune mechanisms that eliminate viral infections while sparing infected cells are key in the resolution of many CNS infections. The immune cytokine interferon gamma (IFNg) plays a crucial role in many immune processes of the CNS, especially those involved in the elimination of viral infection of neurons. However, the response to IFNg has not been extensively characterized in CNS neurons.

It is Turcotte’s objective to define the kinetics of the neuronal IFNg signal transduction pathway that governs the transcriptional responses of the neurons. Specifically, the nature of the mechanisms that control the neuronal IFNg response are delayed as compared to those observed in non-neuronal cells (which may be critical for noncytoytic viral clearance). This hypothesis is based on their previous data which demonstrates that the IFNg response at both the signaling and transcription levels is markedly extended in primary CNS neurons, as compared to primary mouse embryo fibroblasts.

“Dr. Rose is definitely one of the best teachers I’ve ever had,” says Turcotte. “I’ve never felt stupid for asking any questions and he’s really good at explaining everything. When we started working together… I really didn’t know what was going on, but I took a few more biology courses and then he walked me through everything. Now I feel like I have a pretty firm grasp on things. You wouldn’t get the same kind of opportunities that you get here at a larger school. It’s really personal. I know all of the biology professors and they’re always willing to help.”

Using biochemical and molecular approaches, Turcotte and Rose will establish the extent to which negative feedback mechanisms that operate at the level of the receptor complex play a role in the distinct patters of the IFNg signaling observed in primary neurons.  Gaining a better understanding of the way by which CNS neurons respond to IFNg will ultimately aid in the long-term goal of characterizing the immune mechanisms that operate in the CNS under pathogenic conditions.

“One of the very best things that Arcadia offers its students is the opportunity to conduct state-of-the-art research one-on-one with our gifted faculty,” says Arcadia’s President Carl (Tobey) Oxholm III. “Here, discovery and innovation are not just read about in books—they are experienced with the hands and a mentor. These experiences prepare our students well for graduate schools and careers and help to ensure that our country will have creative minds eager to take on new challenges. But these experiences also create informed citizens, as our students know firsthand how difficult true scientific inquiry is and are better able to evaluate and participate in public discourse about scientific issues that will have local, national and global significance in the coming decades.”

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