Research in the Bernstein lab focuses on how epigenetic modifications mediate neurotoxicological effects and gene-environment interactions underlying sporadic neurodegenerative diseases. Although these diseases are generally diseases of the aged, the neurodegenerative process begins long before clinical diagnosis. Thus, exposures the occur early in life may contribute to sporadic forms of disease by directly affecting the vulnerability of neurological systems. Epigenetic modifications are thought to imprint environmental experiences on the genome, resulting in stable alterations in phenotype. Thus, linking epigenetic changes with functional outcomes will help to elucidate the mechanisms underlying sporadic neurodegenerative diseases and further our understanding of the complex relationship between toxicity, epigenetics and neuronal vulnerability.
Epigenetics in Parkinson’s disease
This project aims to characterize the epigenetic changes that occur in PD by analyzing genome-wide DNA modifications (5-methylcytosine and 5-hydroxymethylcytosine) from post-mortem brain tissue from control samples and both early and late stage PD samples. By combining epigenetic analysis with transcriptome analysis, gene networks that contribute to the risk of PD can be identified.
Epigenetics in toxicant models of Parkinson’s disease
Exposure to various compounds (e.g. organochlorine pesticides, flame retardants, caffeine, nicotine) has been shown to modify risk of Parkinson’s disease. Characterization of the epigenetic changes that occur in acute and developmental exposure models, combined with tests of dopaminergic function and vulnerability to future insults, will begin to reveal how epigenetics mediates the response to environmental exposures and contributes to the risk of PD.
Sarah received her Masters of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology at Grand Valley State University, where she received the Graduate Dean Citation Award for Outstanding Master’s Thesis. She has a broad range of research experience studying cytoskeletal proteins in cell division. Sarah has a personal interest in traumatic brain injuries. When not at the bench, she enjoys traveling, hiking, and visiting new breweries with family and friends.