Brain donor liaison officer
Senior Research Officer UNSW
02 9399 1707
Francine has worked at NeuRA since March 2000, after completing her degree. Starting her career as a full time research assistant working on Parkinson’s disease research with Dr Kay Double. After this time, she has worked with Professor Glenda Halliday and Dr Claire Shepherd on dementias.
She now works part time as the Sydney Brain Bank Liaison Officer, managing relationships between the Sydney Brain Bank and the Brain Donor Programs. She also manages the NeuRA Volunteers brain donor program, recruiting healthy brain donors over the age of 60.
Iron misregulation is a central component in the neuropathology of Parkinson's disease. The iron transport protein DMT1 is known to be increased in Parkinson's brains linking functional transport mechanisms with iron accumulation. The regulation of DMT1 is therefore critical to the management of iron uptake in the disease setting. We previously identified post-translational control of DMT1 levels through a ubiquitin-mediated pathway led by Ndfip1, an adaptor for Nedd4 family of E3 ligases. Here we show that loss of Ndfip1 from mouse dopaminergic neurons resulted in misregulation of DMT1 levels and increased susceptibility to iron induced death. We report that in human Parkinson's brains increased iron concentrations in the substantia nigra are associated with upregulated levels of Ndfip1 in dopaminergic neurons containing α-synuclein deposits. Additionally, Ndfip1 was also found to be misexpressed in astrocytes, a cell type normally devoid of this protein. We suggest that in Parkinson's disease, increased iron levels are associated with increased Ndfip1 expression for the regulation of DMT1, including abnormal Ndfip1 activation in non-neuronal cell types such as astrocytes.
The aim of our study was to investigate the relation between substantia nigra (SN) echomorphology and indices of motor cortex excitability. Nigral hyperechogenicity in healthy individuals is thought to represent an SN abnormality or predisposition to Parkinson's disease (PD) and its prevalence is greater in the very old. Our study involved 20 old healthy subjects (aged 72-84 years) known to have normal (n=10) or abnormal (n=10) SN echomorphology. All were in good health with no overt neurological signs. SN morphology was assessed with transcranial sonography through the pre-auricular bone window. Motor cortical excitability and intracortical inhibition were assessed with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the first dorsal interosseus motor area. Single stimuli were delivered during relaxation and voluntary contraction and paired stimuli were delivered during relaxation. Each cortical hemisphere was analysed separately. The response to single-pulse TMS (in motor cortex ipsilateral to the target SN) did not differ between groups. However, a significant difference between groups was observed in the paired pulse paradigm (conditioning stimulus intensity: 70% resting motor threshold; interstimulus interval: 2 ms). The conditioned motor evoked potential amplitude was significantly larger ipsilateral to the hyperechogenic SN than in controls (P=0.014). Thus, healthy subjects with SN hyperechogenicity exhibit significantly less intracortical inhibition within the motor cortex than subjects with normal echomorphology. Decreased intracortical inhibition is also observed in PD patients. This study provides further evidence that SN hyperechogenicity in healthy individuals is associated with changes characteristic of PD supporting a role for this feature as a vulnerability marker or state marker for subtle nigral dopaminergic dysfunction.
An increasing body of research suggests that a number of immune mechanisms play a role in degenerative pathways in Parkinson's disease (PD). In the current work we investigated a posited humoral immune response in this disorder. Sera from PD patients exhibited a significantly enhanced absorbance response on a novel ELISA for anti-melanin antibodies, compared to sera from age-matched control subjects. The enhanced ELISA absorbance response was specific for catecholamine-based melanins and was unrelated to antiparkinsonian dopaminergic medication. Further, the absorbance response was significantly and negatively correlated with disease duration. These data suggest that a specific humoral anti-melanin antibody response is present in PD and is more active in early disease. While the contribution of this novel immune response to the initiation and progression of this disorder is unclear, this finding supports the hypothesis that specific immune responses occurring in PD may respond to therapeutic interventions in this disorder.