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Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disease. There is currently no therapy that can slow or halt the progression of the disease. Individuals with PD have both motor and non-motor symptoms. While 10-15% of PD is due to genetic mutations the majority of PD is sporadic. It is thought that the neurodegenerative process of PD in both familial and sporadic PD is driven by pathological alpha-synuclein, a presynaptic neuronal protein that aggregates and accumulates in Lewy bodies and Lewy neurites in the nervous system. Using models of familial PD, we have uncovered critical pathologic cell signaling pathways and have tested inhibitors that could slow or prevent disease. We have discovered mechanisms of transmission of pathological alpha-synuclein in neuronal circuits and developed a new model of sporadic PD. We have also uncovered an important role for microglia and astrocytes in the pathogenesis of PD and identified a small molecule inhibitor that is disease modifying in animal models.
Dr. Dawson is Director of the Programs in Neuroregeneration and Stem Cells in the Institute for Cell Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is a Professor in the Departments of Neurology, Neuroscience and Physiology. Her laboratory has been on forefront of discovery of neurotoxic signaling stroke and Parkinson’s disease that are leading to the development of new clinical therapies. She has defined the cell death cascade, Parthanatos, important in neurologic disease as well as acute injury to other tissues. She discovered that LAG3 is the receptor for pathologic aggregated a-synuclein leading to transmission and disease progression. In a collaborative set of studies, she found that activated A1 astrocytes play a role in the pathogenesis of PD, which can be prevented by a novel glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1) agonist, NLY01, developed at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Dawson has also discovered a number of neuroprotective proteins that regulate neuroplasticity including Iduna, a novel E3 ligase, Botch, a gamma-glutamyl cyclotransferase that deglycinates Notch, a new AAA+ ATPase, Thorase, that regulating excitability, plasticity and behavior. Dr. Dawson’s honors include the Danial Nathans Innovator, Debrecen Award in Molecular Medicine, Thomson Reuters Highly Cited Researcher and Worlds Most Influential Minds, and elected Fellow to the American Heart Association (F.A.H.A.), American Association for the Advancement of Science and American Neurological Association.
Valina L. Dawson, Ph.D.
Director, Neuroregeneration and Stem Cell Programs; Institute for Cell Engineering, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Professor, Departments of Neurology, the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience, Physiology, Graduate Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine, the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
For more information regarding Dr. Dawson, please visit https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/profiles/results/directory/profile/3168053/valina-dawson
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