Elizabeth Coulson: the life and death of neurons
Professor Elizabeth Coulson’s career has focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms regulating neuronal survival and death, particularly relating to the role of the neurotrophin growth factors and their receptors, with a view to translating these findings into treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, in particular Alzheimer’s disease and MND.
In particular, she has conducted extensive work on a protein called p75 neurotrophin receptor, which regulates the survival and death of neurons.
Associate Professor Coulson found that the function of the protein changes if it's processed into different fragments – one fragment can initiate cell death messengers and the other can potentiate survival messengers.
Sleep disturbances and Alzheimer's disease
Previous research of hers has focussed on the connection between disturbed sleep and cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients.
“Sleep disruption, particularly to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.
“The largest class of drugs given to Alzheimer’s disease patients aims to increase the function of cholinergic neurons that degenerate early in the disease, but they also appear to be effective in treating sleep disturbance.
“We hope to determine whether the causes of sleep disturbance also underpin development or progression of Alzheimer’s disease”.
A long career in neuroscience
Professor Elizabeth Coulson completed her undergraduate Honours degree at The University of Melbourne, majoring in genetics and biochemistry.
She then undertook a PhD with Professor Colin Masters in the Department of Pathology, also at The University of Melbourne, to study the normal function of the amyloid precursor protein of Alzheimer’s disease.
Following a year overseas at the Center for Molecular Biology of the University of Heidelberg, Germany, she returned to Australia to pursue Postdoctoral work at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, studying neuronal cell death in neurodegeneration and development.
In 2003 she was recruited to The University of Queensland as a founding member of QBI.