Methylmercury (MeHg) is a potent neurotoxin affecting both the developing and mature central nervous system (CNS) with apparent indiscriminate disruption of multiple homeostatic pathways. However, genetic and environmental modifiers contribute significant variability to neurotoxicity associated with human exposures. The long-term goal of this research is to elucidate the basis of MeHg neurotoxicity and to identify mechanistic- based neuroprotective strategies to mitigate human MeHg exposure risk. Here, we propose a multifaceted approach, combining powerful neurogenetic model systems, human-based cellular and genetic approaches to provide novel disease modifying strategies impinging on MeHg exposure vulnerability, and enable mechanistic insight into genetic pathways that modify sensitivity of specific neural lineages to MeHg-induced neurotoxicity. Specifically, we will test the hypothesis that genetic pathways that alter susceptibility to MeHg-induced neurotoxicity will display neural lineage- and developmental stage-dependent activity.
In Specific Aim 1, we will screen for genetic modifiers of developmental MeHg-induced dopaminergic (DAergic) and glutamatergic (GLUergic) neurotoxicity in the nematode, C. elegans, by RNAi. Studies in Specific Aim 2 will compare and contrast MeHg neurotoxicological outcomes in human nigral DAergic versus cortical GLUergic neural lineages. Finally, in Specific Aim 3, we will evaluate mechanisms by which genetic pathways modify MeHg neurotoxicity. This highly interactive experimental design brings to bear innovative and complementary expertise to assess shared genetic networks attenuating MeHg-induced toxicity with translational extrapolation from the nematode to humans.

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The proposed studies will (1) identify genetic modifiers of MeHg-induced neurotoxicity in C. elegans, (2) compare and contrast MeHg neurotoxicological outcomes in human nigral versus cortical neural lineages, and (3) evaluate mechanisms by which genetic pathways modify MeHg neurotoxicity. Our multidisciplinary approach seeks to define the functional domains that regulate key nodes of interaction between MeHg and biological systems and the role genetic traits of susceptibility play in mediating molecular mechanisms of neurological disease influenced by MeHg exposure.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Hollander, Jonathan
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Albert Einstein College of Medicine
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