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An investigation of neuronal mitochondrial carotenoids using novel photonics technology

Primary supervisor: Dr Irundika Dias, Aston Medical School

Secondary supervisor: Professor Sergei Turitsyn

University of registration: Aston University

Project title: An investigation of neuronal mitochondrial carotenoids using novel photonics technology
Project description:

Carotenoids are lipid-soluble pigments, which can be found in variety of fruits and vegetables, that serve as robust biomarkers of dietary exposure. We have previously shown that serum carotenoid levels are lower in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and oxidised lipids are increased. More recently, we described a protective role of lipophilic, oxygen containing carotenoids (oxocarotenoids) against mitochondrial dysfunction induced by oxidised phospholipids in neuronal cell culture. This data showed the importance of maintaining a healthy carotenoid level for the optimal function of the brain. Only recently, the inner mitochondrial membrane has been shown as the intracellular localisation of the carotenoid metabolising enzyme, β-carotene oxygenase 2. However, little is known about their transport, metabolism and function of lipophilic carotenoids within the brain cells. One main challenge for carotenoid analysis is the requirement of specialised analytical methods for accurate quantification, which are often invasive, time consuming and expensive.

 Revolutionary photonics technologies open an incredible era of exponential growth in applications that enable precision biosensing, imaging of biomarkers and record cellular metabolic activities. By using the excellent endogenous fluorescence nature of carotenoids, our preliminary data shows that photonics technology can be applied to characterise in real-time even subtle changes to carotenoid profile in cells. By using a novel photonics technology, this project aims to investigate the hypothesis that carotenoids are targeted in neurones to serve a protective role under stress and preserve mitochondrial lipids and function. This project brings together an interdisciplinary team who will explore the mitochondrial health and oxylipids (Dr Dias, Aston Medical School), development of photonics technology to measure real-time lipophilic carotenoid levels (Professor Turitsyn, Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies). This project will enable us to (i) define carotenoid concentrations and (oxy)cardiolipin in mitochondrial fractions from differentiated neuronal cells in the presence and absence of carotenoid supplementation. (ii) research and develop the existing laser-based probe for fluorescence spectroscopy (FS) to a FS imaging system for non-invasive real-time carotenoid profiling in neuronal cells (iii) validate FS imaging system against standard carotenoid measurements by analytical techniques such as HPLC and combine with mitochondrial function analysis in neuronal cells. The development of non-invasive FS-based imaging system will be valuable not only for studying the efficiency of mitochondrial metabolism in carotenoid-enriched neurones, but also for future participant-based research that ensure a safe and low participant-burden method of measuring micronutrient status.

BBSRC research priority area: Understanding the rules of life: Immunology & Microbiology

Contact: Dr Irundika Dias, Aston University