The aim of my Neurobiology Group at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA); Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards Directorate (RCE) 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 the 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 needed 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 the University of Strasbourg (France) and a Ph.D. in medicine in the field of the neurophysiology of pain at the 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 neuroepigenetics.
How and why adult on-set of neurological/neuropsychiatric disorders start? At which moment and how do the brain cells trigger a succession of events that cascade to neuronal loss and memory decline in neurodegenerative disorders? How do life events trigger depression and affective disorders in adults? How do 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 behavior, electrophysiology, biochemistry, and genetics to implement them in our group and investigate the effects of environmental hazards on the epigenetics of brain disorders.
Dr. Sean Gettings
Master Student from the University of Bath, she has done a 7-month internship (August 2021 to February 2022) to develop an epigenome editing tool using CRISPR-dCas9 to study the epigenetics of Parkinson’s disease. Riddhi received a Summer Studentship awarded by Animal Free UK to develop this epigenome editing tool in an Animal Free way. She also contributed to the study of the effect of ochratoxin A on brain cells funded by NIHR.
Gareth Hazell from the Cellular Biology Group of UKHSA RCE.