Research and Advanced Education
Students distinguished at the Research Day tell their story
Students Joana Almeida and Mariana Vargas were awarded with the 1st Prize of the 17th "Education Through Science" Workshop, part of the Research Day, for their project “Efeitos da expressão microglial de Sirt2 na LTP”, developed at the J.A. Ribeiro Lab unit and supervised by Dr. Ana Sebastião and Dr. Maria José Diógenes Nogueira.
The students told news@fmul about their research experience with the "Education Through Science" programme and presented the results of their work.
Sirtuins are a family of seven NAD+ dependent protein deacetylases (SIRT1-SIRT7), known for their major role in the processes related to aging, which in turn consitutes a predominat and unifying risk factor in neurodegenerative diseases.
It is well established that the immune system plays an important role in the aging process and neurodegenerative diseases, with neuroinflammation as a factor in the pathogenesis of these conditions. What is more, neuroinflammation detected in models of neurodegenerative diseases is associated with a decreased Long-Term-Potentiation (LTP), a type of synaptic plasticity involved in learning and memory formation.
SIRT2 is a sirtuin most abundantly expressed in the brain, capable of deacetylating NF-kB, one of the most important regulators of proinflammatory genetic expression, in microglia. SIRT2 inhibits this, thus preventing excessive microglial activation. As such, it plays a key inhibitory role in microglia-mediated inflammation.
Taking into account the role that SIRT2 plays in neuroinflammation, which in turn, according to studies on animal models of neurodegenerative diseases, can be associated with LTP deficiency, our aim was to assess the impact of microglial SIRT2 deficit on synaptic plasticity of the hippocampus through measuring the LTP magnitude in groups of wild-type (WT) or knockout (KO) mice for microglial Sirt2, under inflammatory versus control conditions.
Our results have shown that in the absence of SIRT2 microglial expression the inflammatory stimuli significantly diminish the LTP, that is, the synaptic plasticity. That suggests that the expression of Sirt2 in microglia might have a protective effect on the decline of synaptic plasticity mediated by inflammatory stimuli.
The GAPIC experience Academically, we have always been very much interested in research. Since the beginning of our studies at the Faculty, we have always dreamed of joining a lab team and developing a research project, and this has come to fruition thanks to the "Education Through Science" programme. The programme, set up by Support Bureau for Scientific and Technological Research and Innovation (GAPIC) at our Faculty, gives medical students access to the laboratory environment and a chance to become involved in research projects, creating dynamics between the laboratories of IMM (Institute of Molecular Medicine) and the Faculty of Medicine, enabling pre-clinical laboratory experience, indispensable for future physicians.
In our case, there was absolutely no doubt as to which laboratory we would choose: Neuroscience. We had the privilege and honour to be admitted to the department of Pharmacology and Neurosciences of IMM, and to be supervised by Dr. Maria José Diógenes, Dr. Teresa Pais and Dr. Ana Sebastião. We could not have had better supervisors, as apart from being outstanding researchers, they were also always available and willing to help. We developed this year-long project with satisfaction and care, and we believe we can take it further. And that is why we are planning to continue our laboratory work.
We were offered a chance to work on a recent project related with the study of SIRT2, which we gladly accepted! After some research on sirtuins we became more and more intrigued by the area and we put all of our effort into the project. The first contact we had with electrophysiological laboratory techniques was not easy, and we had a lot to learn in order to gain autonomy in the lab. Scientific research does involve accepting that you need to spend time learning the techniques, as well as that things do not always go according to plan, and we do not always get the expected results. But this is just the way it is, and if you like what you do, all obstacles can be overcome.
The "Education Through Science" programme provides therefore a stimulus both for students and for laboratories, creating a perfect union of two symbiotic halves and contributing to teaching medicine in a more integrated way, and with a more complete vision. Our participation in the programme involved, in the first phase, putting together an application with a description of our work and of the experimental method, not forgetting about our objectives and potential results. After all the experiments were carried out, and all the data obtained, we get to the stage of discussing the results, a challenging but at the same time intellectually stimulating part. Challenging was also the last stage when we had to present the achieved results in a report, and then on a poster during the Research Day at FMUL, as well as give an oral presentation on them. Last but not least, it is worth emphasising that the "Education Through Science" initiative also promotes the getting together of young students interested in research, fostering the exchange of knowledge, ideas and projects.
In conclusion, we could not be happier or more grateful for the opportunity we were given with this programme. It has allowed us to enter the world of research and to go after our passion for it. A challenging and enriching experience, it has provided us with an added value for our personal and academic development.