What are your research interests?
My main research interest is in understanding the causes of Parkinson's disease. We have developed a model in which activation of the peripheral immune system induces a loss of specific nerves, in a manner similar to that which occurs in Parkinson's disease. We are interested in how immune system activation causes the loss of dopaminergic (dopamine releasing) nerves.
Another interest is the role of catecholamines (naturally occurring amines that function as neurotransmitters and hormones within the body, such as adrenaline and dopamine) in response to stress. Stress induces the activation of specific nerves and this can be monitored by determining the activation of tyrosine hydroxylase - the rate limiting enzyme in catecholamine synthesis.
Why did you get into research?
I find understanding the way in which the brain operates at a molecular level fascinating. As it is the basis of all neurological and psychiatric disorders, it is clearly important.
What would be the ultimate goal for your research?
In the near future, I will be focusing on our recently developed model for Parkinson's disease.There will be no end point to understanding brain function in my lifetime. However, I would like to know how changes in signal transduction in catecholaminergic cells controls the activity of these cells in response to a range of stressors. In particular I would like to know exactly how immune activation can lead to Parkinson's disease.
Professor Dunkley's research has always focused on signal transduction in neuronal and endocrine tissues (tissues that relsease hormones) and especially on protein phosphorylation (a type of modification that can activate or deactivate a protein).
His interests have moved from a marker called myelin basic protein that is able to induce models of multiple sclerosis, to synapsin I that controls neurotransmitter release, to tyrosine hydroxylase that controls catecholamine synthesis.
Professor Dunkley's focus recently has been on mechanisms of synthesis and secretion of the catecholamines (dopamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline) and the consequences of changes in dopamine synthesis in Parkinson’s disease.
Specialised / Technical Skills
Professor Dunkley has skills in using laboratory models for neurological diseases to test molecular hypotheses, especially those involving signal transduction pathways involving protein phosphorylation.
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, with 6.3 million people diagnosed worldwide; 80,000 of these are Australian. This means that around one out of every 350 Australians suffers from this life changing debilitating disease. Parkinson’s disease appears more frequently in males than females. The majority of Parkinson’s disease cases are idiopathic- of unknown cause. Parkinson’s disease is characterised by degeneration in the dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra (a structure in the midbrain). The dopaminergic neurons are nerve cells that make and contain a neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Oxidative stress and neuroinflammation are thought to be involved in degeneration of the dopaminergic neurons.