Research Lab

Mitochondria and Neurobiology

Research Interests

We are interested in the pathophysiology and experimental treatment of neurodegenerative disorders. We aim to identify mechanisms of selective neuronal vulnerability; and to validate the targets and mechanisms of action of small-molecule modulators of mitochondria, epigenetics and proteostasis.
Our primary focus is Huntington’s disease - a polyglutamine expansion disorder that preferentially kills medium spiny neurons in the striatum - but we are also interested in Parkinson’s disease and open to collaborations in the more general fields of neural and cell biology.
We also have a broad interest in mitochondrial physiology and pharmacology, and in models organisms such as zebrafish - for pharmacology, ecotoxicology, and neurobiology studies.
Our main expertise includes functional imaging by live fluorescence videomicroscopy; molecular biology techniques; behavioural assays; experimental design and statistics.

Research Highlights
The interplay between mitochondria and proteostasis in Huntington’s disease

Abnormal proteostasis, dysfunctional mitochondria, and aberrant redox signalling are often associated in neurodegenerative disorders. We investigated how changes in redox signalling affect proteostasis mechanisms - including protein degradation pathways and unfolded protein responses - by testing the mitochondria-targeted antioxidant MitoQ in HD mice. We showed that abnormal redox signalling in muscle contributes to altered proteostasis and motor impairment, and that redox interventions can improve muscle performance, highlighting the importance of peripheral therapeutics in HD (Pinho et al 2020 Free Rad Biol Med 146:372-382).

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Mitochondrial superoxide generation induces Parkinsonian phenotypes and Huntingtin aggregation

Superoxide generation by mitochondria is a major source of reactive oxygen species (ROS) which are capable of initiating redox signaling and oxidative damage. The current understanding of the role of mitochondrial ROS in health and disease has been limited by the lack of experimental strategies to selectively induce mitochondrial superoxide production. We performed a first in vivo study of the recently-developed mitochondria-targeted redox cycler MitoParaquat (MitoPQ) in the vertebrate zebrafish model and in a human cell model of Huntington's disease (HD). MitoPQ induced a parkinsonian phenotype in zebrafish, with decreased reflexes, spontaneous movement and dopaminergic neurodegeneration, without detectable effects on heart rate or atrioventricular coordination. In a HD cell model, MitoPQ promoted mutant huntingtin aggregation without increasing cell death. These results show that MitoPQ is a valuable tool for cellular and in vivo studies of the role of mitochondrial superoxide generation in redox biology, and as a trigger or co-stressor to model metabolic and neurodegenerative disease phenotypes (Pinho et al 2019 Free Rad Biol Med 130:318-327).

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Representative Projects

  • Targeting huntingtin proteostasis and mitochondria to prevent neuronal dysfunction in Huntington’s disease. FCT-MCTES, Total funding: €198,514, Jorge M. A. Oliveira (PI)
  • KDAC inhibition and intracellular dynamics: impact on NEUROnal development, survival and transmission. FCT-MCTES. Total Funding: €143,983. Jorge M. A. Oliveira (PI)
  • Trans-phyletic obesogenic responses: from epigenetic modules to transgenerational environmental impacts. FCT-MCTES. Unit Funding €21,310. Jorge M. A. Oliveira (Task coordinator).
  • Comparative analysis of teratogenic potential and cardiac abnormalities induced by histone deacetylase inhibitors. U.Porto & Santander-Totta. Total Funding: €4,000. Jorge M. A. Oliveira (PI)
  • Targeting mitochondrial dysfunction with epigenetic modulatory drugs: An integrated in vitro (neurons) and in vivo (zebrafish) approach. U.Porto & Santander-Totta. Total Funding: €3,500. Jorge M. A. Oliveira (PI)

Selected Publications

Silva, RFO; Pinho, BR; Monteiro, NM; Santos, MM; Oliveira, JMA. 2022. Automated analysis of activity, sleep, and rhythmic behaviour in various animal species with the Rtivity software. Scientific Reports, 12, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-08195-z
Rui FOSilva; Brígida RPinho; Miguel MSantos; Jorge MAOliveira. 2022. Disruptions of circadian rhythms, sleep, and stress responses in zebrafish: New infrared-based activity monitoring assays for toxicity assessment. CHEMOSPHERE, 305, DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2022.135449
Liliana MAlmeida; Brígida RPinho; Michael RDuchen; Jorge MAOliveira. 2022. The PERKs of mitochondria protection during stress: insights for PERK modulation in neurodegenerative and metabolic diseases. BIOLOGICAL REVIEWS, DOI: 10.1111/brv.12860
Pinho, BR; Almeida, LM; Duchen, MR; Oliveira, JMA. 2021. Allosteric activation of Hsp70 reduces mutant huntingtin levels, the clustering of N-terminal fragments, and their nuclear accumulation. LIFE SCIENCES, 285, DOI: 10.1016/j.lfs.2021.120009
Pinho, BR; Duarte, AI; Canas, PM; Moreira, PI; Murphy, MP; Oliveira, JMA. 2020. The interplay between redox signalling and proteostasis in neurodegeneration: In vivo effects of a mitochondria-targeted antioxidant in Huntington's disease mice. FREE RADICAL BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE, 146, DOI: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2019.11.021
Pinho, BR; Reis, SD; Hartley, RC; Murphy, MP; Oliveira, JMA. 2019. Mitochondrial superoxide generation induces a parkinsonian phenotype in zebrafish and huntingtin aggregation in human cells. FREE RADICAL BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE, 130, DOI: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2018.10.446
Soares, TR; Reis, SD; Pinho, BR; Duchen, MR; Oliveira, JMA. 2019. Targeting the proteostasis network in Huntington's disease. AGEING RESEARCH REVIEWS, 49, DOI: 10.1016/j.arr.2018.11.006
Reis, SD; Pinho, BR; Oliveira, JMA. 2017. Modulation of Molecular Chaperones in Huntington's Disease and Other Polyglutamine Disorders. MOLECULAR NEUROBIOLOGY, 54, DOI: 10.1007/s12035-016-0120-z
Pinho, BR; Reis, SD; Guedes-Dias, P; Leitao-Rocha, A; Quintas, C; Valentao, P; Andrade, PB; Santos, MM; Oliveira, JMA. 2016. Pharmacological modulation of HDAC1 and HDAC6 in vivo in a zebrafish model: Therapeutic implications for Parkinson's disease. PHARMACOLOGICAL RESEARCH, 103, DOI: 10.1016/j.phrs.2015.11.024
Guedes-Dias, P; de Proenca, J; Soares, TR; Leitao-Rocha, A; Pinho, BR; Duchen, MR; Oliveira, JMA. 2015. HDAC6 inhibition induces mitochondrial fusion, autophagic flux and reduces diffuse mutant huntingtin in striatal neurons. BIOCHIMICA ET BIOPHYSICA ACTA-MOLECULAR BASIS OF DISEASE, 1852, DOI: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2015.08.012