This research proposal outlines a five year career development plan for Dr. Christiane D. Wrann, D.V.M, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, to achieve independence as a principal investigator under the mentorship of Bruce Spiegelman, Ph.D., Professor of Cell Biology and Medicine at the Dana-Farber Cancer and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Spiegelman is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a world expert on transcriptional regulation and the beneficial effects of exercise in the periphery. Importantly, Dr. Spiegelman has a strong track record of mentoring scientists with over 20 trainees holding academic faculty positions. Dr. Michael Greenberg, PhD will function as co-mentor and will provide his expertise for the neurobiological aspects of the project. Dr. Greenberg is the Nathan Marsh Pusey Professor of Neurobiology and Chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a leader in the field of BDNF gene expression and synapse plasticity, and has contributed greatly to our understanding of diseases of cognition, in which these processes are disturbed. Dr. Greenberg has more than 25 years of experience in mentoring postdocs and has established a successful record of guiding postdocs as they transition into independent faculty positions. In addition, Dr. Bradford Lowell, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and faculty member within the Program in Neuroscience, will provide his expertise in dissecting neurocircuits as a consult for Dr. Wrann's training in electrophysiological techniques. Dr. Wrann will take advantage of the world class environment at the Spiegelman lab and surrounding Harvard Medical School campus to achieve the aims in the proposal. The candidate has a strong track record of innovative research with a focus on the molecular pathways of diseases. She has performed postdoctoral training at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Dana- Farber Cancer Institute, affiliates of Harvard Medical School, and has experience in both, whole animal physiology and mechanistic studies at the cellular level. Her career development plan combines training in cutting-edge techniques with career development activities to facilitate her transition to independence and includes formal course work, attending scientific meetings, and support from a joint mentor committee with expertise in her area of research. This plan allows Dr. Wrann to develop expertise in the molecular mechanisms of exercise-induced benefits in synapse plasticity and cognition and to transition into independent faculty position to establish her own research program. The candidate's long-term goal is to become an independent academic investigator and faculty mentor with a research laboratory contributing towards understanding and reversing cognitive impairment associated with aging and neurodegenerative diseases. Cognitive impairment is caused by a variety of conditions such as aging, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, and psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders such as schizophrenia or autism. The disability associated with such impairment is devastating and the economic and social costs of caring for the affected individuals are staggering;yet effective treatment options are woefully inadequate, primarily due to a lack of therapeutic targets. Exercise has been linked to improved cognitive function, especially learning and memory, in various rodent models as well as in clinical studies. However, to derive druggable targets from exercise interventions a much deeper understanding of the molecular mechanisms that regulate exercise- induced improved cognition is required. My preliminary studies identify FNDC5 (fibronectin-domain III containing 5) as a promising and novel regulator of exercise-induced benefits on cognition (Wrann et al., Cell Metabolism 2013). Based on these data, I hypothesize that FNDC5 acts as a critical regulator that links exercise to BDNF expression and synapse plasticity, and thereby to improvements in cognitive function. The objective of this proposal is to rigorously test this hypothesis and evaluate the role of FNDC5 in cognition, by integrating mechanistic experiments in cell culture, functional electrophysiological and morphological studies in genetic mouse models, and behavioral testing. I will achieve this objective by addressing three Specific Aims.
In Aim 1 I will test the hypothesis that FNDC5 is required for exercise-induced BDNF expression, which causes improved cognition, in Aim 2 that FNDC5 regulates synaptic plasticity, and in Aim 3 that FNDC5 can improve cognitive function in murine models of cognitive decline. Successful completion of these experiments will provide a better understanding of the molecular mechanism whereby exercise affects synaptic plasticity and improves cognitive function. In addition, it establishes a framework for how FNDC5 can improve cognitive function in murine models of cognitive decline, which may represent a novel therapeutic approach for treating these conditions.
Neurological impairment caused by aging, neurodegenerative diseases, or stroke is a major and growing health burden. Exercise has been shown in animal models and clinical studies to ameliorate these conditions. Understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms of these neuroprotective effects of exercise has the potential for developing innovative therapeutic approaches for treating these disorders.