Did you know that several billions of years ago, our unicellular ancestors were invaded by a bacterium that gave them a selective edge over their fellow organisms? These bacteria enabled them to use oxygen to derive maximum energy from nutrients in the environment, and went on to become mitochondria. Today, these organelles execute several crucial processes in cells. They are so important, in fact, that any change in their functioning can lead to a variety of pathologies, including metabolic disease, neurodegenerative disease and cancer.
Dr. Étienne Hébert-Chatelain, Canada Research Chair in Mitochondrial Signalling and Pathophysiology, is seeking to understand the role of mitochondrial kinases in how mitochondria adjust to stressful conditions or, conversely, their role in triggering certain diseases. Kinases are proteins that slightly alter the structure of their targets and, in so doing, change their properties and functions. In this manner, kinases can quickly change mitochondrial activity.
Hébert-Chatelain and his team are trying to identify kinases present in the mitochondrion as well as the targets of these kinases and how they affect mitochondrial activity. Because of the importance of mitochondria in the development of several diseases, the team is also examining the role of these processes in the onset and development of pathological conditions.
Hébert-Chatelain’s research will yield a better understanding of the core functioning of these cells and will help scientists identify new and important processes in the development of diseases. This will eventually lead to new therapeutic approaches.