14 May 2014

Two early career researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) have received The University of Queensland’s Dean's Award for Research Higher Degree Excellence.

Dr Ramesh Narayanan and Dr Roger Marek

Two early career researchers from the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) have received The University of Queensland’s Dean's Award for Research Higher Degree Excellence.

Dr Ramesh Narayanan and Dr Roger Marek were both included in the 2013 Dean’s Award List for their PhD theses.

The annual awards recognised graduates who have demonstrated excellence in a research higher degree and who have been commended by advisors and independent examiners for substantial contribution to their field of research.

Dr Narayanan worked under Dr Robyn Wallace and Dr Marie Mangelsdorf at the Peter Goodenough and Wantoks Research Laboratory, researching the mechanisms behind motor neuron disease (MND) – a fatal disease with no known cause or cure.

His thesis, Molecular analysis of the motor neuron disease-associated protein TDP-43, found that TDP-43 gene (mutations in which is known to cause MND) binds to and regulates more than 1000 RNA targets.

He also went on to show that some of these genes are mis-regulated in the presence of an MND causing mutation in mouse, as well as providing additional evidence for RNA processing as a potential disease mechanism in MND.

“My work was involved in trying to understand how the MND gene regulates an entire network of genes and what effect an MND causing mutation on the gene has on its RNA targets,” Dr Narayanan said.

“One of the benefits of coming from a disease research focus laboratory was that we are constantly engaging with the donors and patients, and that gives you a different perspective of the research and the importance of community outreach programs.

Dr Roger Marek’s thesis, Investigation of the Connectivity of the medial PFC and Amygdala linked to Fear Memory, saw him work with Professor Pankaj Sah to investigate the neuronal circuit that is involved in the acquisition of fear memory and its extinction.

“By using electrophysiological and optogenetic tools, we found that the medial PFC forms and receives sublayer-specific neural connections onto excitatory and inhibitory neurons that allow a 'top-down' modulation of fear-related output regions in the brain,” Dr Marek said.

“Moreover, in a collaboration with Dr Tim Bredy, we identified epigenetic modulators in the medial PFC that can either impair or enhance the extinction of fear memory.

“This could be a crucial pharmaceutical target for anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I feel honoured to receive the award, and it’s very encouraging to keep going and persuing further research.”

Both researchers continue to work at QBI as Postdoctoral Research Fellows.

Media: Mikaeli Costello, +61 401 580 685, mikaeli.costello@uq.edu.au

Queensland Brain Institute

The Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) is a world-class research facility based at The University of Queensland’s (UQ) St Lucia campus. Researchers at QBI make great contributions to the field by studying fundamental cellular and mechanistic processes, as well as disorders and diseases from early brain development through to later life. Our scientists work to understand complex functions such as cognition, ageing, neurological disease, mental illness, and learning and memory. www.qbi.uq.edu.au