Tell us about your research!
Most patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease are successfully treated with Levodopa pills to reduce their symptoms during the early stages of the disease. However, as dopaminergic neurons continue to die, striatal circuits controlling movements lose their ability to handle the administrated dopamine. This results in involuntary movements, which we call dyskinesia.
My thesis work has been to understand different aspects of dyskinesia in mouse models and to map the different striatal pathways involved.
Dyskinesia can be divided into either dystonia or chorea. Dystonia is a persistent contraction of muscles, leading to abnormal and often painful postures. Chorea reminds us about the dance-like movements seen in Huntington’s disease, with jerky involuntary movements.
To elucidate which neural circuits that are responsible for this, we used mouse models with insulted dopaminergic projections into the striatum. Then I induced dyskinesia with levodopa injections into these mice. Further, we also established a mouse model where we knocked out the dopaminergic receptor type 2 involved in the indirect pathway. By silencing this pathway, I could elucidate its involvement in different aspects of involuntary movements.
The most important finding of my thesis is that different aspects of dyskinesia involve different dopaminergic pathways. Persistent muscle contractions seem to be mediated via the indirect pathway, whereas the jerky involuntary movements depend on the direct pathway. Understanding how these different pathways fail in the later stages of the disease is essential for designing drugs exclusively targeting specific symptoms.
How did you end up at MultiPark?
In 2015, when I was a master student in Trieste (northern Italy), I decided to go for an Erasmus exchange to Finland. After that, I got in contact with Angela Cenci Nilsson at Lund University. She offered me to try a project during a semester at her lab and I became passionate into that project and continued with a Ph.D. in her group.
What did you like the most during your thesis work at MultiPark?
The whole experience has been intense but also nice. In a way, I was lucky with my project since I found it very interesting, and I think that it is essential to be able to spend so much time and effort in pursuing a Ph.D. My research group has been very supportive. The possibility to present my research in a friendly context, such as during the graduate school lunch seminars arranged by MultiPark has meant a lot to my professional development.
What have been the most challenging during your Ph.D.?
To be overloaded with work! It is hard to find space for your private life. The biggest issue for me has been to handle my internal demands and the fact that in Sweden, you are expected to publish more papers before your defence. One crucial factor for me to manage this has been the sincere relation I have with Angela, my main supervisor. It helps when that relationship is based on mutual respect and the ability to say no when things become too intense. I have been lucky here.
And the most rewarding?
Without any doubt, when you get to see your main results and the accepted papers. Then it is worth all hours you struggled with the experiments.
Supervising students has also been a great pleasure to me. During my thesis work, I have had seven students, mainly at the master level. This is something that should be encouraged more.
Another thing I enjoyed was the patient visit that Parkinson Skåne arranged before the pandemic. During one day, I was involved in presenting my research project and showing them the lab. I hope there will be more occasions to interact with patients in the future. It is especially important for us experimental researchers to get in contact with people suffering from the disease you try to understand.
What do you like to do when you are not at work?
I have a dog and enjoy walking in nature. Running is another interest. Being physically active releases my stress.
What advice do you want to give to new Ph.D. students?
Make sure that you are passionate about the project because it will, on some occasions, be overwhelming. Pursuing a research education is a great commitment, so make sure to find a group with a friendly working environment. Try to find time for yourself regularly and understand and respect your limits during the journey.
What happens after your defence?
My partner recently got a job in London, so I will move out of Sweden. First, I will just take some time off to understand more precisely what I want to do. Then I will try to find a suitable postdoc in academia.