Catherine Brennan Awarded NIH SCORE Grant

MatthewCatherine Brennan, assistant professor of biological sciences, was awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for $417,300 over three years for her project Using Psidin to Study the Regulation of Phagocytosis vs Autophagy Pathways. Her research aims to understand the mechanisms that control how white blood cells kill bacteria and other microbes they engulf through the process of phagocytosis, or “cell eating.”

“We conduct our experiments in Drosophila fruit flies,” Brennan explains. “These flies have white blood cells very similar to our own macrophages, and have certain advantages when it comes to doing experiments that allow us to analyze the functions of their genes quite easily (our genes and the fly’s genes are remarkably similar!). In particular, our research focusses on the role of a gene named psidin in the regulation of the killing activity of white blood cells. Fly blood cells that are mutant for the gene psidin are able to take up bacteria, but not to kill those bacteria (which can then actually proliferate inside the blood cell).

“From this observation, we can infer that the gene psidin plays a vital role in regulating the killing activity, and we want to figure out exactly what it does. Human macrophages also express the psidin gene, so we expect that our studies in flies will translate to greater understanding of human immune function.”