Prestigious HFSP grant goes to the University of Vienna for lipid research

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Exploring the synaptic diversity with neurolipidomics ( Robert Ahrends)

Exploring the synaptic diversity with neurolipidomics ( Robert Ahrends)

Lipids are still "great unknowns" in synaptic transmission Biochemist Robert Ahrends from the University of Vienna and colleagues from Australia, Germany, and Belgium have been awarded an internationally renowned HFSP Research Grant, endowed with EUR 1.2 million for three years. The scientists are investigating the molecular diversity of lipids and their influence on synaptic function. With this research project, they could make a decisive contribution to the understanding of aging and neurological diseases.

Synapses are the central connection units between nerve cells. Their functionality largely determines how well our brain can process and store information. However, synapses can vary significantly in composition at the molecular level, i.e., the diversity of proteins and lipids as central building blocks of the synaptic cell membrane.

"Lipids constitute the majority of compounds in the synaptic cell membrane, and they are expected to have a crucial role in signal transmission. While the role of proteins in synaptic transmission is relatively well understood, lipids are still big unknowns," said project leader Robert Ahrends, who holds a professorship in lipidomics at the Faculty of Chemistry. With his group, Ahrends combines state-of-the-art mass spectrometry and computational techniques to elucidate the totality of lipids in cells (lipidomes).

In this HFSP project on "Spatial and deep neurolipidomics to reveal synapse diversity", Ahrends will work with Shane Ellis (University of Wollongong), Michael Kreutz (Leibniz Institute of Neurobiology), and Steven Verhelst (University of Leuven) to investigate the molecular diversity of lipids and their influence on synaptic functionality. Using new technologies, it is possible to determine the lipids at the level of the synaptic cellular structures (organelles) and uncover molecular interactions between lipids and proteins. The project could provide essential insights to understand better aging and neurological diseases in light of synaptic lipid composition.

The highly competitive Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) funds innovative and interdisciplinary basic research in life sciences. The recently approved HFSP Research Grant on lipidomics research is the second to be granted to a researcher from the University of Vienna in 20 years. In March, the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization awarded 32 HFSP grants with a total sum of about EUR 33.4 million. Since the beginning of the Program in 1989, 28 HFSP awardees have been awarded a Nobel Prize. HFSP’s collaborative research grants are given for projects under the overall topic "Complex mechanisms of living organisms".

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