About Corinne Lasmézas
Our laboratory focuses on the study of neurodegenerative diseases, especially those linked to protein misfolding (protein misfolding neurodegenerative diseases, or PMNDs). These diseases comprise Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, prion diseases, fronto-temporal dementia, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. None of them are curable. They are all due to host proteins loosing their natural, functional conformation and adopting a new shape that renders them neurotoxic and prone to aggregation.
Prion diseases constitute the prototypic PMND. These rapidly fatal neurodegenerative diseases affect humans and animals and are caused by infectious aggregates of the prion protein PrP, called prions. In humans, prions cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. In animals, the recent epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the United Kingdom has caused major turmoil throughout Europe, and later, in other countries such as Japan, Canada and the United States, because the bovine prion disease is transmissible to humans causing variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. The transmissibility of the latter by blood transfusion created a novel public health issue.
Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases affect 5.8 and 1 Million people in the USA, respectively. Their incidence has steadily increased with an aging population, having a major impact on public health, society and the economy. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in developed countries. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) is an orphan disease causing a progressive muscle weakness and paralysis, affecting an estimated 30,000 people in the USA.
In recent years, it has been discovered that aggregates of amyloidogenic proteins such as Ab, tau, a-synuclein or SOD-1 involved in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson diseases and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, respectively, spread from cell to cell in culture and in the living organism similarly to PrP aggregates, showing “prion-like” behavior. There are other features common to these toxic proteins and the way they injure neurons (e.g. toxicity of low molecular weight aggregates, impairment of protein degradation mechanisms such as autophagy, mitochondrial distress).
Our aim is the development of novel, disease-modifying therapeutic approaches for protein misfolding neurodegenerative diseases. We think that this aim will be best achieved by intervention strategies based on targeting toxic protein aggregates, and blocking the neurodegenerative process to achieve neuroprotection. We are pursuing these goals by studying the underlying biology, defining therapeutic targets, identifying active molecules by high-throughput screening and developing lead compounds. The latter two tasks are performed in collaboration with our lead identification and chemist colleagues on campus.