Professor Majid Hafezparast

Professor Majid Hafezparast

Professor of Molecular Neuroscience

Telephone: 01273 678214 or 01273 872812

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Majid Hafezparast

Mechanisms of neurodegenerative disease

Neurodegenerative diseases consist of a large and varied group of pathologies, characterised by the degeneration of specific subsets of neurons and they include pathologies often seen in the elderly.

In Motor Neurone Diseases (MND) such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), the age of people who develop ALS is between 40 and 70 years old and the lifetime risk of succumbing to the disease is 1 in 300. Moreover, people with ALS, typically die within 2-5 years after appearance of the symptoms. Research in my laboratory is focused on understanding the molecular and cellular basis of motor neuron degeneration and developing diagnostic and prognostic molecular biomarker signatures for early diagnosis and predicting disease progression rate.

To achieve these objectives, there are several PhD programmes available in my laboratory. One area is seeking to answer the longstanding question of whether age-related reduction in axonal transport and the function of cytoplasmic dynein, a molecular motor responsible for axonal transport in neurons, predisposes neurons to dysfunctional protein degradation and consequently accumulation of toxic misfolded protein aggregates, leading to neuronal cell death in neurodegenerative disease. We have evidence to support this, and the PhD student will be looking further to see whether when combined with minor mutations in MND-related genes, it can lead to development of MND (the multiple-hit hypothesis). This project will use a range of cell and molecular biology techniques in combination with advanced microscopy to investigate the underlying molecular mechanisms that lead to the demise of motor neurons in MND.

Another project will be in the area of non-coding RNA (ncRNA) in MND, based on their use as potential biomarkers of MND. Biomarkers are increasingly regarded as important components for successful development and trialling of new treatments for any neurodegenerative disease. Additionally, they could provide much needed certainty to people with MND and their families by helping to reduce the delay in providing a diagnosis through the administration of a simple blood test, as well as providing an indication and prediction of the disease progression. Based on our results, the PhD student will be improving our initial ncRNA biomarker signature as well as looking at the source of these ncRNA and their role in the disease pathology. This project utilises next generation RNA-seq technology combined with molecular biology techniques including RT-qPCR, in combination with bioinformatics tools to analyse, seek and identify dysregulated ncRNAs such as microRNAs which could be used as biomarkers of MND.

Another area of interest in my laboratory is the role of the microglia-derived ncRNA in the pathogenesis of MND. Microglia are the immune cells of the nervous system that play crucial roles in synaptic maintenance and in protecting the central nervous system from pathogens. They also contribute to neuroinflammation in neurodegenerative disease and there is growing evidence that they play critical roles in the development of MND. We have evidence that microglia that harbour MND associated mutations release ncRNAs which can potentially affect gene expression in neurons and consequently cause them to become dysfunctional. The PhD student will utilise our RNA-seq data for RT-qPCR and bioinformatics analyses and cell/molecular biology techniques to identify the targets and impact of microglia-derived ncRNA on motor neurons and their contribution to MND.

Key references

  • Christoforidou E, Simoes FA, Gordon D, Talbot K, Hafezparast M. (2023). Aberrant dynein function promotes TDP-43 aggregation and upregulation of p62 in male mice harboring transgenic human TDP-43. Amyotrophic Lateral Scler Frontotemporal Degener. 2023 Jul 27:1-10. doi: 10.1080/21678421.2023.2239276. Online ahead of print.
  • Simoes FA, Joilin G, Peters O, Schneider LS, …, Hafezparast M. (2022). Potential of Non-Coding RNA as Biomarkers for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Nov 22;23(23):14554. doi: 10.3390/ijms232314554.
  • Joilin G, Gray E, Thompson AG, Talbot K, Leigh PN, Newbury SF, Turner MR, Hafezparast M. (2022). Profiling non-coding RNA expression in cerebrospinal fluid of amyotrophic later sclerosis patients. Ann Med. 2022 Dec;54(1):3069-3078. doi: 10.1080/07853890.2022.2138530. PMID: 36314539
  • Joilin G, Gray E, Thompson AG, Bobeva Y, Talbot K, Weishaupt J, Ludolph A, Malaspina A, Leigh PN, Newbury SF, Turner MR, Hafezparast M. (2020). Identification of a potential non-coding RNA biomarker signature for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Brain Commun. 2020;2(1):fcaa053. doi: 10.1093/braincomms/fcaa053. Epub 2020 Jun 17. PMID: 32613197 Free PMC article.
  • Christoforidou E, Joilin G, Hafezparast M. (2020). Potential of activated microglia as a source of dysregulated extracellular microRNAs contributing to neurodegeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. J Neuroinflammation. 2020 Apr 28;17(1):135. doi: 10.1186/s12974-020-01822-4. PMID: 32345319 Free PMC article. Review.
  • Joilin G, Leigh PN, Newbury SF, Hafezparast M (2019). An Overview of MicroRNAs as Biomarkers of ALS. Front Neurol. 2019 Mar 7;10:186. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2019.00186. eCollection 2019. PMID: 30899244 Free PMC article. Review.
  • De Vos KJ, Hafezparast M (2017). Neurobiology of axonal transport defects in motor neuron diseases: Opportunities for translational research? Neurobiol Dis. 2017 Sep;105:283-299. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2017.02.004. Epub 2017 Feb 22. PMID: 28235672 Free PMC article. Review.
  • Garrett CA, Barri M, Kuta A, Soura V, Deng W, Fisher EM, Schiavo G, Hafezparast M (2014). DYNC1H1 mutation alters transport kinetics and ERK1/2-cFos signalling in a mouse model of distal spinal muscular atrophy. Brain. 2014 Jul;137(Pt 7):1883-93. doi: 10.1093/brain/awu097. Epub 2014 Apr 22. PMID: 24755273
  • Schiavo G, Greensmith L, Hafezparast M, Fisher EM. (2013). Cytoplasmic dynein heavy chain: the servant of many masters. Trends Neurosci. 2013 Nov;36(11):641-51. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2013.08.001. Epub 2013 Sep 10. PMID: 24035135 Free PMC article. Review.
  • Hafezparast M, Klocke R, Ruhrberg C, et al (2003). Mutations in dynein link motor neuron degeneration to defects in retrograde transport. Science. 2003 May 2;300(5620):808-12. doi: 10.1126/science.1083129. PMID: 12730604

Visit the Hafezparast Lab pages for more details and a full list of publications.

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