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 focusing on dementia research.
She now works part-time as the Sydney Brain Bank Liaison Officer, managing relationships between the Sydney Brain Bank and the Brain Donor Programs. Francine also manages the NeuRA Volunteers brain donor program, recruiting healthy brain donors over the age of 60.
Francine is also involved with Dr Claire Shepherd’s research studies.
To investigate the prevalence of clinically relevant multiple system atrophy (MSA) and Lewy body disease (LBD) pathologies in a large frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) cohort to determine if concomitant pathologies underlie the heterogeneity of clinical features. Coexisting LBD in FTLD comprises a small proportion of cases but has implications for clinical and neuropathologic diagnoses and the identification of biomarkers.
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.