Brain-immune Interactions in Neurodegenerative Disease (2015-2016)

This Bass Connections project team studied neurodegeneration, focusing on Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a complex chronic disease of the brain that significantly decreases memory and learning and is ultimately fatal. The mechanism behind the onset or progression of Alzheimer’s disease remains unknown. Although the common view is that A-beta peptide is the principal causative factor, multiple unsuccessful clinical trials have lessened the enthusiasm for this concept and have stimulated the search for alternative pathways, whose understanding may increase our ability to offset this devastating disease process. 

The team's experiments were designed to understand basic pathophysiological mechanisms of brain disease. An integrated research team incorporated the Colton, Gottshalk and Chiba-Falek Labs in the Department of Neurology. Team interactions included a monthly joint lab meeting and interaction with the other research labs located on the same floor of the Bryan Research Building. Students and faculty interacted essentially on a daily basis, and students participated in research seminars in the Neurology Department.

Kirsten Bonawitz received a Bass Connections follow-on grant to work on elucidating the role of genetics in the development of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, mentored by Ornit Chiba-Falek.


Summer 2015 – Spring 2016

Team Outcomes

Lidia Tagliafierro, Kirsten Bonawitz, Omolara C. Glenn, Ornit Chiba-Falek. 2016. Gene Expression Analysis of Neurons and Astrocytes Isolated by Laser Capture Microdissection from Frozen Human Brain Tissues. Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience. 9:72.

Project team demo and presentation at DIBS Discovery Day, Brain Awareness Week at Duke (April 3, 2016)

Gene Expression Changes of Novel Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Variants within Neurons of Non-Demented and Mild Cognitive Impairment Human Brain Samples (paper by Kirsten Bonawitz)

A Novel Method for Examining APP Arrest in the TOM Complex (honors thesis by Shane Bierly, Neuroscience)

The Effect of a TOMM40 Poly-T Variant on Mitochondrial Stress Responses in Alzheimer’s Disease (honors thesis by Sonal Gagrani, Neuroscience)

Changes in the Expression of Late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Genes throughout Pathological Progression within Single Neurons (honor thesis by Kirsten Bonawitz, Neuroscience)


Kirsten Bonawitz

Shane Bierly, Neuroscience ’16

Kirsten Bonawitz, Neuroscience '17


Bass Connections in Brain & Society: Brain Week 2016

This Team in the News

Kirsten Bonawitz: Drawn to Genetics and Alzheimer's Disease Research

Neuroscience Student Pursues Genetic Underpinnings of Alzheimer’s Disease

Meet the Members of the Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

From Lab to Museum, Students Share Their Brain Research

Six Students Receive Grants to Extend Their Bass Connections Research

Alzheimer’s Breakthrough: Scientists May Have Found Potential Cause of the Disease in the Behaviour of Immune Cells—Giving New Hope to Millions

CBS: Alzheimer’s Breakthrough?

The Guardian's Alternative New Year Honours: Your Suggestions (Carol Colton)

See related teams, Brain-immune Interactions in Neurodegenerative Disease (2014-2015) and Brain-immune Interactions in Neurodegenerative Disease (2016-2017).

Team Leaders

  • Ornit Chiba-Falek, School of Medicine-Neurology
  • Carol Colton, School of Medicine-Neurology
  • William Gottschalk, School of Medicine-Neurology

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Shane Bierly, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Kirsten Bonawitz, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Erin Choe, Biology (BS)