The long term goal of the research conducted in my lab is to learn about the general principles that organisms use to acquire and metabolize the essential nutrient iron. Since in eukaryotes, iron metabolism depends on the activity of copper-containing enzymes called ferroxidases, we examine the trafficking copper in cells as well. The first challenge for a cell is to scavenge these two metals from the environment. This is true for a yeast cell in culture, or for an epithelial cell in your intestine. The second challenge is to efficiently and correctly partition these metals in the cell for subsequent utilization and storage. Ultimately the cell or organism will have to regulate the accumulation of these metals and to ensure that they are not allowed to roam "free" since both are toxic.
Iron and copper are essential micronutrients. They are required in fundamental cellular processes such as cellular respiration in all organisms, and for vital physiologic functions such as oxygen transport in blood and muscle. The brain has a strong requirement for iron to support the elevated energy metabolism needed to support neuronal function. However, both iron and copper are also intrinsically toxic. This toxicity results from their strong tendency to generate oxygen radicals which in turn destroy key cellular components. For example, iron uptake into the brain must be tightly regulated, a process we focus in our research. Failure of this regulation can result in a variety of brain pathologies particularly those that result in degeneration of neuronal function.