Dr. Hao-Dong Li
University of Alberta
Each of the body’s cells contains an endoplasmic reticulum (ER), a small network of tubes and vessels where complex protein molecules are folded into the correct shape to carry out their particular tasks. Among those tasks is the regulation of how lipids – the fat and oil molecules that provide a cell’s structure – store energy. This can play a key part in the development of cardiovascular disease.
Although much of what happens in the ER remains unknown, one protein called calreticulin appears to be especially critical to this lipid regulatory process. Dr. Hao-Dong Li, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Alberta’s department of biochemistry, is studying this agent in order to determine precisely what it does.
Her work considers the action of calreticulin as a protein ‘chaperone’ which guides other proteins through the important folding process so they can form part of an intricate mechanism that monitors lipid levels. It also keeps those levels from becoming too high or too low. Any change in the way these proteins function can affect the performance of this mechanism, resulting in conditions such as a build-up of fats within blood vessels and the onset of atherosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries.
Dr. Li suggests that a better understanding of this protein chaperone will shed light on how ER proteins normally maintain an appropriate balance of lipids. Treatments for problems such as elevated fats in the bloodstream could then take advantage of this knowledge, targeting the specific proteins responsible for these disorders.
Dr. Li’s work is supervised by Dr. Marek Michalak.
Supported by AstraZeneca Canada Inc.