The aim of my Neurobiology Group is to study the effects of environmental hazards on the epigenetics of brain disorders.
Brain disorders encompass neurological (i.e.: Alzheimer’s disease, sleep disorders, chronic pain, epilepsy) and neuropsychiatric (i.e.: Depression, anxiety, affective disorders) conditions and diseases. Most of them are multifactorial with interplay between environmental and genetic factors. One cellular mechanism underlying the link between environmental and genetic factors is epigenetic mechanisms.
Briefly, epigenetics are the mechanisms affecting the expression of genes without modifying the DNA sequence, and they are influenced by environmental factors. There are various epigenetic markers such as histone acetylation and methylation, and DNA methylation to name the most studied. While there is a growing body of evidence that neuroepigenetic mechanisms are involved in brain disorders and mental health, the mechanisms are poorly understood. It is also less understood how environmental hazards affect neuroepigenetics. Therefore, further investigations are need to find and understand when and how the switch of a healthy neuron to a pathological neuron leads to brain disorders.
The goal of our group is to investigate the effects of environmental hazards on the epigenetics of brain disorders using various methods such as cellular culture, epigenome editing with CRISPR-dCas9, in vitro electrophysiology assay, and animal model of nervous disorders and diseases.
- Funded by NIHR HPRU on Chemical and Radiation Threats, we are:
- Developing a novel screen for environmental neurotoxins.
- Studying the effect of mycotoxin on human neuronal cell lines.
- Development of an epigenome editing tool using CRISPR-dCas9
Meet the team
Leader of the Neurobiology Group
Dr. Nora Bourbia
After obtaining a Master’s degree in cellular and integrative neuroscience at University of Strasbourg (France) and a PhD in medicine in the field of neurophysiology of pain at University of Helsinki (Finland), I did a post-doc in neurobehavioural genetics at the MRC Harwell (UK).
Throughout my academic journey I was interested by the field of neuroepigenetics.
How and why adult on-set of neurological/neuropsychiatric disorders start? At which moment and how the brain cells trigger a succession of events that cascade to neuronal loss and memory decline in neurodegenerative disorders? How life events trigger depression and affective disorders in adults? How environmental hazards induce the switch from a healthy to a pathological neuron?
To address these questions, I have followed an academic path to learn skills in animal behaviour, electrophysiology, biochemistry and genetics to implement them in our group and investigate the effects of environmental hazards on the epigenetics of brain disorders.
Master Student from the University of Bath, she is doing a 7 months internship to develop an epigenome editing tool using CRISPR-dCas9 to study the epigenetics of Parkinson’s disease. Riddhi receives a Summer Studentship awarded by Animal Free UK to develop this epigenome editing tool in an Animal Free way.
Gareth Hazell from the Cellular Biology Group of PHE CRCE.