Pascale Legault, Professor,
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine,
Université de Montréal
Pilot Project Grant : $45,000,
Funded by Quebec Research Fund on Parkinson*

Biogenesis of microRNAs associated with Parkinson’s disease

Pascale Legault knew from a young age that she wanted to become a scientist. Both of her parents were doctors, and through them she acquired an intimate awareness of how scientific knowledge contributes to the health of individuals.

“I became aware very young about the importance and the interest of research,” she recalls. “When I was in primary school, my dad often brought me to his workplace – a local hospital that focused on long-term care. Visiting his elderly patients was always a humbling experience as I was faced with the limitations of modern medicine.”

Now a professor in the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine at the Université de Montréal, Legault’s scientific career has focused on the structure and function of RNA, an essential molecule of life similar to the famous DNA, which is similarly crucial for the growth and development of all organisms. Research in this field has accelerated over the last decade. Researchers now know a special class of RNA — called microRNA — control a wide range of the body’s functions, including multiple aspects of normal brain function. That also means the action or inaction of microRNA is a good place to look for the root causes of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

“When I learned that the levels of specific microRNAs are disrupted in Parkinson’s disease, that’s when I got very interested,” she says. “I was connecting my scientific interest in fundamental research with real problems, specific clinical issues that mostly affect elderly people.”

Legault has concentrated her efforts on two microRNAs, named miR-7 and miR153, which are disrupted in people with Parkinson’s disease. She is examining the biochemical conditions responsible for this disruption, with the aim of identifying the proteins that prevent the microRNAs from fulfilling their function. For her, this pilot project funding represents a unique and welcome opportunity to demonstrate the feasibility of this strategy, which could open the way to dealing with the fundamental causes of the problem.

“In order to develop therapeutic strategies, we need to better understand the underlying molecular mechanisms involved in the development of this disease,” she says. “This can lead us to identify targets that could be used for therapeutic intervention. Not necessarily in the short term, but definitely in the longer run.”

* Quebec Research Fund on Parkinson is funded notably by the Saucier–van Berkom Parkinson Quebec Research Fund and Parkinson Society Saskatchewan.