Mitochondrial Adaptations and Homeostasis: Student Research from the MHRC

We recently had the opportunity to speak with four students from the Muscle Health Research Centre (MHRC) at York University who are investigating the links between metabolism, mitochondria, and skeletal muscle. As part of our blog series with the MHRC, we highlight some of their research goals and findings.

Mitochondrial adaptations in response to exercise and disease

We begin with two senior PhD students under the supervision of Dr. David Hood, Ashley Oliveira and Jonathan Memme. Ashley and Jonathan primarily investigate how mitochondria in the skeletal muscle are regulated and maintained, as well as how they adapt in response to various disease and exercise conditions.

Ashley mainly focuses on mitophagy, or how mitochondria are recycled in the cell. She looks at the role of two transcription factors, TFEB and TFE3, in mediating exercise-induced adaptations, and investigates how their absence impacts the typical adaptations that are seen within skeletal muscle mitochondria. The MHRC provides Ashley with a variety of instruments that allow her to dive deep into mitochondrial bioenergetics and function.

In contrast, Jonathan focuses on P53, a protein that acts as a tumor suppressor. However, Jonathan is more so interested in how P53 acts as a metabolic regulator and how it mediates mitochondrial respiration, function, and turnover. To elucidate these mechanisms, he investigates bioenergetics in vivo, and employs techniques like western blotting and qPCR.

Mitochondrial Homeostasis

We next speak with Mikhaela Slavin, a first year PhD student who is also supervised by Dr. David Hood. While the Hood laboratory primarily focuses on mitochondrial function in skeletal muscle, Mikhaela investigates the regulation of mitochondrial homeostasis and how mitochondria maintain protein quality. She also examines retrograde signaling from the mitochondria to the nucleus, and how that affects the overall regulation of mitochondrial function. Mikhaela uses the animal running facility at the MHRC to train animals and assess mitochondrial adaptations in response to exercise.

“It’s amazing to be a part of the MHRC as a student. It’s a very engaging group of researchers that are all striving towards a common goal in research, but with very diverse areas of expertise.”

Effects of the ketogenic diet on adipose tissue

Our final interviewee is Daniel Da Eira, a third year PhD student under the supervision of Dr. Rolando Ceddia. Daniel researches obesity and metabolism, and how exercise, cold exposure, and diet affect metabolism in skeletal muscle, liver, and fat cells. To date, few researchers have looked into the metabolic effects of a low carbohydrate/high fat diet (i.e., the ketogenic diet) in adipose tissue, and Daniel seeks to uncover the underlying mechanisms. Daniel is also the chair of the MHRC student committee, which organizes professional development events (e.g., career days, seminar series, etc.) for graduate students.

“What [the Student Committee] does is it promotes the academic and professional development of graduate students in the MHRC by leading initiatives like the MHRC seminar series and the MHRC career day.”

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