Believe it or not, three or more years of biochemistry research can be described in just three minutes. To prove it, the two winners of My Thesis in 180 Seconds, an International francophone competition held in Montreal last September, wrote descriptions of their work for Technologist using only 180 words.
Noëmie Mermet (above left)
PhD student at the University of Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand (France)
Involvement of 5-HT2A receptors in the role of PKC interneurons under allodynia conditions
When softness hurts
Who would believe that the sensation of fabric touching the skin could be unbearable? Maybe not you. But for some people, it’s agony.
These patients suffer from allodynia: a painful symptom characterised by the transformation of tactile sensation into pain. For these people, putting on a shirt or even taking a shower causes intolerable pain.
How is this possible?
Touch and pain follow different pathways as they are interpreted by our brains. Sensory input is first detected peripherally by our skin, then sent to neurons in the brain stem (for sensations coming from the head) or the spinal cord (for the rest of the body). These neurons refer the information on to brain regions responsible for interpreting either touch or pain.
In cases of allodynia, a mistake occurs in this referral; touch is sent to the region in which pain is processed.
This appears to be caused by PKC neurons that are controlled by serotonin via 5HT2A receptors. By acting specifically on these receptors, we hope to be able to cure allodynia. So that a soft touch feels soft again.
Marie-Charlotte Morin (above right)
PhD student at the University of Strasbourg (France)
Role of lin-15A and retinoblastoma proteins in a direct cellular reprogramming event in vivo in C. elegans
Neurons from below
Many diseases begin with cellular degeneration, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, in which neurons die off. Recreating the missing cells from available healthy ones – those under the skin, as an example – is one therapy that is now possible thanks to progress in manipulating cellular identity.
How can a cell be safely reprogrammed to take on a new identity in an organism? To understand the stages involved in cellular reprogramming, we are studying a fascinating natural phenomenon – in an ordinary earthworm, rectal cells naturally change identity and become neurons.
During the course of my thesis research, I identified several genes that acted to inhibit this cellular reprogramming, along with others that did the opposite, initiating the cellular identity change.
By unravelling this natural reprogramming process we will provide the scientific community with a description of the mechanisms involved in cellular identify change in a physiological context. This sensitive regulation of a change in a cell’s destiny, which is 100 per cent safe for the organism, could be used as a basis for future studies that would aim to reproduce the process in human cells.