Yvonne Nolan is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, and Programme Director of the BSc in Neuroscience, UCC. Her research is focused on understanding how lifestyle factors such as exercise, stress and diet throughout the life course impact upon neuronal functions and behaviour, with a focus on inflammation as a critical mediator. She currently leads a Science Foundation Ireland Investigator Award on inflammation and stress-induced changes in hippocampal neurogenesis and associated cognition. She also investigates inflammation and cognitive function in models of Parkinson’s disease.
Yvonne graduated from NUI, Galway with a BSc in Biochemistry and a PhD in Neuropharmacology. She was a visiting fellow at McGill University Montreal, Canada and held academic and industrial postdoctoral positions in Trinity College, Dublin before joining the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience as a lecturer. Since then she has been active in supervising and mentoring postgraduate and postdoctoral research students. She has recently been awarded UCC’s Research Supervisor of the Year, 2016.
Inflammation is a key contributor to the cognitive or motor decline associated with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or Parkinson’s disease (PD), and to the cognitive deficits associated with stress-related psychiatric disorders such as depression. Injury, stress, exposure to environmental toxins or endogenous disease proteins, infection or age can induce prolonged activation of microglia, the resident immune cells of the brain. Consequently, microglial-derived pro-inflammatory cytokines interleukin-1b (IL-1b) and tumour necrosis factor-a (TNFa) are thought to be deleterious to the function and survival of neurons. Loss of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons in PD patients is accompanied by microglial activation, and it is now thought that pro-inflammatory cytokines contribute to the loss of dopaminergic neurons responsible for the manifestation of the motor symptoms of the disease. Pro-inflammatory cytokines also negatively regulate neurogenesis (the birth of new neurons), during embryonic development and in the hippocampus of the adult brain, and it is now known that neurogenesis plays a crucial role in learning, memory and neural plasticity. In parallel, cognitive dysfunction is a feature of many neurodegenerative and stress-related psychiatric disorders. While inflammation is detrimental to neurogenesis and cognition, physical exercise is a potent promoter of neurogenesis and facilitates learning and cognition. Current research in my lab aims to decipher the role of inflammation and physical activity in changes in dopaminergic neurons to PD, and in hippocampal neurogenesis. Thus the overall aim of her research is to identify and develop pro-cognitive interventions and therapies to counteract the negative effects of brain inflammation.
H-index: 19; Citations >1200 (Web of ScienceTM)
Grants and Funding: > €2 million in research funding (€358,000 is non-exchequer) from grants to fund projects as the Lead Investigator.
Please see http://research.ucc.ie/profiles/C003/ynolan