Pan European Networks - Horizon 2020 - page 54

To find out more about his discovery Portal
spoke to Behl, who outlined the process of
autophagy. He also detailed the investigations
that had taken place using a nematode
and human fibroblasts and the importance of
EU funding.
What is the context of the study?
Worldwide, we have a huge problem with age-
associated disorders. This crisis mainly concerns
neurodegenerative disorders, for example
Alzheimer’s (the most common cause of
dementia), Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s
disease. Over the last 20-30 years, most of the
research has focused on defining the genetic
backgrounds of these conditions, meaning if you
have a genetic form of these disorders, there is
a defined probability that your offspring will also
develop the disorder. However, such genetic
disease cases represent the minority, and the
majority of incidences occur sporadically and
are strictly age-associated.
It is also important to consider additional
factors that influence the onset of such
diseases and the progression of these non-
treatable, deadly disorders. With this concept
in mind, my research focuses on systematically
comparing the biochemistry of young and old
cells, because this age shift is the background
and the platform for the development of age-
related diseases.
How has the investigation focused
on the biochemistry of young and
old nerve cells?
There are significant differences in biochemistry
and function between a very young human cell
and a very old human cell – these disparities
are considered the main influential factors for
neurodegenerative disorders. This theory of
thought is our prime working scientific
hypothesis, and this has led to studies regarding
the systematic investigation of biochemical
I S S U E S I X
H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA L
54
N E U R O D E G E N E R AT I O N
A novel autophagy protein
Professor Dr Christian Behl,
of the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, speaks
to
Portal
about the role of the RAB3GAP complex in autophagy and potentially in
neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s
N
eurodegenerative disorders are typically characterised
by protein deposits in the brain comprising defective,
insoluble proteins which no longer fulfil their function
and which cells are unable to break down. New research, part-
funded by the European Research Council, has determined the
RAB3GAP complex, a heterodimeric protein, as a novel factor that
influences the degradation of proteins.
The investigation, led by Professor Dr Christian Behl and Dr Andreas Kern
of the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in Germany, showed that the
RAB3GAP complex has a decisive influence on the process of protein
degradation and represents an important element of the cellular
autophagy network, a process in which cells digest their own components.
Behl commented: “The controlled protein degradation by autophagy is a
core aspect of protein homoeostasis, which means the complex interplay
between the formation, folding and decomposition of proteins. We have
extended our understanding of age-related disorders by identifying new
factors involved in this process.”
The scientific result provides new opportunities for the development of
therapeutic and preventative approaches to neurodegenerative diseases.
The full results of the study were published in the journal
Autophagy.
Professor Dr Christian
Behl
Alzheimer’s is a major
age-associated disorder
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