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Home | Tag Archives: UTEP Researchers

Tag Archives: UTEP Researchers

UTEP Researchers uncover new brain mechanisms in Fruit Flies that may impact future learning, memory research

A research team from The University of Texas at El Paso has made strides in understanding how memories are formed through the brain mechanisms of fruit flies, findings that could enhance our understanding of brain disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance addiction, according to an article published in the highly renowned Journal of Neuroscience.

The article, titled “Concerted Actions of Octopamine and Dopamine Receptors Drive Olfactory Learning,” focuses on flexible behavioral choices that are shaped by experiences and cognitive memory processes of fruit flies in a laboratory setting.

The study was led by Kyung-An Han, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences and director of the Master of Arts in Teaching Science (MATS) program at UTEP; brothers John Martin Sabandal, a UTEP graduate who is currently a doctoral student at Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida, and Paul Rafael Sabandal, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Han’s laboratory.

Martin Sabandal was an undergraduate student in Han’s research lab when he performed research that contributed to the study. A former postdoctoral associate, Youngcho Kim, Ph.D., who is currently a faculty member at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, is also a co-author of the study.

The research team identified the actions of the neurotransmitters octopamine and dopamine as a key neural mechanism for associative learning in fruit flies. This is vital for animals to appropriately respond to the cues predicting benefit or harm. If animals cannot promptly learn and remember the cues, they would not be able to survive or have a decent quality of life.

“I am beyond thrilled about this work getting published,” John Martin Sabandal said. “We expanded our knowledge about the importance of aminergic signaling for olfactory learning in fruit flies. This represents a significant finding in the invertebrate field since octopamine was previously shown to be only important for positively-reinforced learning. This publication was a culmination of the hard work spent during my undergraduate years at UTEP.”

Paul Sabandal said olfactory conditioning in fruit flies has greatly contributed to overall understanding about the mechanisms underlying associative learning and memory. Historically, in fruit flies, dopamine is implicated in both punishment- and reward-based learning while octopamine is widely considered to be essential only for reward.

“This pioneering work serves as an essential framework for future studies to delineate the signals and circuits that shape appropriate behavioral choices important for fitness and survival,” he said. “We strongly believe that our study advanced not only the learning and memory field, but may have implications on related disciplines including dementia and addiction.”

Han said the study may help enhance our understanding of the brain disorders with anomalous memories such as PTSD (augmented memory on traumatic events), addiction (intensified memory on drug-associated cues) or learning disabilities (impaired memory).

“Many aspects of our behaviors are the representations of our memories that are formed by associating information or stimuli that we experience,” Han said. “For example, celebrities are often featured in commercial advertisements, which is because we tend to associate their social status or star power with product values. This is a typical case of classical conditioning for associative learning and memory. Our study tackles the key question of how the association is occurring in the brain using the genetic model Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit flies.”

Kim added that fruit flies provided an excellent primer for the research team to uncover their findings.

“Associative learning is a fundamental form of behavioral plasticity,” Kim said. “Drosophila provides a powerful system to uncover the mechanisms for learning and memory.”

Researchers from The University of Texas at El Paso have made strides in understanding how memories are formed through the brain mechanisms of fruit flies, findings that could enhance our understanding of brain disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance addiction. Their work was recently published in the highly renowned Journal of Neuroscience April 2020 edition. Displayed in this photo are researchers and brothers Paul Rafael Sabandal, Ph.D. graduate, John Martin Sabandal, BS graduate and Kyung-An Han, Ph.D. at the 2017 May UTEP Commencement Ceremony.

UTEP Researchers help blaze path for Biofriendly Materials to aid drug design delivery for Neurodegenerative Disorders

The contributions of researchers from The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) have yielded the first indication that carbon quantum dots, a class of nanoparticles, can be utilized to combat neurological disorders, according to a paper published in the journal Processes as part its special issue on protein biosynthesis and drug design and delivery.

The study, titled “Untangling the Potential of Carbon Quantum Dots in Neurodegenerative Disease,” was co-authored by Sreeprasad T. Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Mahesh Narayan, Ph.D., assistant professor and professor, respectively, in UTEP’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The pair contributed to work by Prakash Narayan, Ph.D., vice president of preclinical research for Angion Biomedica Corp. in Uniondale, New York; and Lindsey Jung, a student at Tenafly High School in New Jersey, who works under Prakash Narayan’s supervision.

The study focuses on carbon quantum dots (CQDs), biofriendly materials synthesized from waste materials such as wood, fruit peel, algae and even salmon.

A road map laid out by the research team addresses, for the first time, key requirements for the transitioning of their use from environmental-sensing applications into the neurodegenerative domain; a crossing-over that requires their separation and total characterization, including aspects related to safety and their ability to target specific receptors in the brain.

“The carbonaceous quanta are finally making their way from physics into chemistry and now, biology,” Prakash Narayan said. “This work lays the foundation for harnessing the enormous potential of carbon quantum dots for therapeutic intervention in neuro disease.”

The CQDs are made by “pressure-cooking” waste biomaterials such as fruit peel, amino acids, algae and even fish. As an outcome of the procedure, they are synthesized as a mixture of carbon dots and non-carbon dots. Some of the compounds in the mixture can be toxic. This aspect would negate their use in biomedical applications.

To facilitate the crossing-over of CQDs into preclinical and eventually clinical use, the research team provides a path for their safe use while demonstrating their potential to both prevent and treat neurodegenerative disorders, Mahesh Narayan said.

The research was conducted at Angion Biomedica, and at UTEP’s Functional Quantum Materials Laboratory and the Laboratory for Neurodegenerative Research.

The transitioning of CQD applications from electrochemistry, catalysis and environmental sensing to biomedicine represents an important milestone in its 15-year history; a bellwether for its yet-unrealized potential in interventional biology, imaging, diagnostics, prophylaxis and therapy.

“This will allow pharmaceutical companies to tailor carbon quantum dots for specific uses,” Mahesh Narayan said. “Individuals with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s could benefit greatly from this kind of therapy.”

To read the full paper, click here.

UTEP Researchers develop Nanohybrid Vehicle to optimally deliver drugs into human body

Researchers in The University of Texas at El Paso’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry have developed a nanohybrid vehicle that can be used to optimally deliver drugs into the human body.

Leading the study are Mahesh Narayan, Ph.D., professor, and Sreeprasad Sreenivasan, Ph.D., assistant professor, both from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC) in UTEP’s College of Science.

The research was published in April 2020 in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Drug candidates that show promise against a particular disease often are toxic to other cell types. One such drug is the polyphenol ellagic acid (EA). This antioxidant, derived from nature, demonstrates the potential to mitigate pathologies including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

To selectively use EA in the brain against neurodegenerative disorders requires that its cytotoxic potential be reduced and only its anti-oxidant potential be exploited. Narayan, Sreenivasan and colleagues created a nanohybrid vehicle to circumvent this problem.

“We are very excited about the new drug delivery materials developed by Drs. Narayan and Sreenivasan,” said Robert Kirken, Ph.D., dean of UTEP’s College of Science. “This platform allows for molecules to be impregnated into the material so that the drug can more specifically target the tumor or other tissue site, thus increasing the beneficial effects of the drug while reducing its negative side effects.”

The researchers discovered that encapsulating EA in chitosan, a sugar, reduces its inherent cytotoxicity while enhancing its anti-oxidant properties. The chitosan shell, which makes up the hard outer skeleton of shellfish, also permits EA delivery via a rapid burst phase and a relatively slow phase.

This further enhances the drug delivery because the nanohybrid vehicle is uniquely suited for drug release over extended time periods.

“This work creates a new type of bio-friendly drug-delivery vehicle made of recyclable materials,” Narayan said. “The other special feature of this vehicle is that it can deliver the drug via two mechanisms: one rapid and the other a slow-release.”

Other project collaborators include UTEP doctoral student Jyoti Ahlawat, who led the research project under the supervision of her mentors; Eva Deemer, Ph.D., of UTEP’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering; and Rabin Neupane, a graduate student in the department of industrial pharmacy at the University of Toledo.

Narayan’s laboratory focuses on mitigating oxidative stress induced by neurotoxins as a means to prevent neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Sreenivasan’s lab works to bridge and interface chemistry, materials physics, and biological sciences to develop uniquely designed quantum structures and devices.

To learn more about this research, click here.

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