All publications

Research interest

We are interested in understanding the fundamental mechanisms governing the lifelong production of neurons in the adult brain. Adult neurogenesis, as this process is termed, decreases with age and this age-related decline in neurogenesis results in an associated decline in learning processes that are controlled by the hippocampus.

In previous work, together with Professor Perry Bartlett, we provided the first evidence of a true, but normally latent, hippocampal stem cell population and identified a mechanism through which the production of new neurons could be stimulated to replace or repair damaged cells in neurodegenerative diseases. More recently our focus has been on the systemic regulation of adult neurogenesis. We use the physical exercise model of increased neurogenesis to investigate cross-talk between the brain and the peripheral immune system, and in this context have investigated the interaction between T cells, mast cells and platelets and the neural stem cell niche.

The control of cell death provides a key mechanism in the regulation of adult hippocampal neurogenesis. We have demonstrated that ferroptosis, a recently identified, caspase-3-independent mode of programmed cell death, is a fundamental mechanism underlying the regulation of adult hippocampal neurogenesis. This form of cell death is mediated by the dietary trace element selenium. We have shown that selenium supplementation results in increased neural progenitor cell survival and neuronal-lineage differentiation in the hippocampus of young adult and aged mice. Ferroptotic cell death has been linked to the cell death that occurs in a number of neurodegenerative diseases and stroke. A key aspect of our future research program will be to investigate whether blocking ferroptotic cell death via dietary or environmental interventions can rescue the behavioural and cognitive decline observed in an animal model of stroke.

Researcher biography

Dr Tara Walker is a Senior Research Associate at the Queensland Brain Institute. Dr Walker's group is investigating the mechanisms governing the lifelong production of neurons in the adult brain (adult neurogenesis). Tara studied Biotechnology as an undergraduate at the Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane, Australia), before carrying out her PhD in the field of Plant Biotechnology. In 2003 she made the transition to neuroscience, joining the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) and the group of Professor Perry Bartlett. Here she became interested in the field of adult hippocampal neurogenesis, particularly in its activity-dependent regulation. In 2010, she joined the group of Professor Gerd Kempermann at the Center for Regenerative Therapies in Dresden, Germany, where she was awarded a Marie Curie International Incoming Fellowship in 2011. In July 2018 she returned to QBI to take up a position in the newly developed Centre for Restorative Neurosciences as a Senior Research Associate, where she will apply her knowledge of neural stem cell biology to stroke research.