Merja Voutilainen Team

Contact information

Merja Voutilainen
PhD, Principal Investigator
Tel. +358 2941 59456
Fax. +358 2941 59366 
e-mail:
merja.h.voutilainen-at-helsinki.fi

Institute of Biotechnology 
P.O.Box. 56
00014 University of Helsinki 
Street address:
Viikinkaari 5D, Biocenter 2

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Research interests

i) Novel treatments for neurodegenerative diseases
We are studying CDNF/MANF family of neurotrophic factors and GDNF family ligands and receptors. Currently we are mainly focused on two major diseases, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Parkinson’s disease and trying to find neurorestorative treatments that promote functional recovery from the disease.

ii) Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
ALS is a rapidly progressing fatal motoneuron (MN) disease characterized by progressive degeneration of MNs. There is no treatment for ALS that could halt the progression or cure the disease, thus there is a crucial medical need to find drug therapies that would slow disease progression, treat the disease and extend survival of the patients. The clinical hallmark of ALS is the combination of upper and lower MN signs and symptoms, causing muscle weakness with a wide range of disabilities. Most patients with ALS die from respiratory failure, usually within 1 to 3 years from the onset of symptoms. Our aim is to find therapies that could protect from motoneuron loss and improve the survival from the disease. We use wide array of preclinical methods.

iii) Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by the cardinal motor symptoms of tremor, rigidity, postural stability and bradykinesia. In PD dopaminergic cells die most prominently in the area of substantia nigra. Current therapies of PD do not prevent the progression of the disease and the efficacy of these treatments wanes over time. We aim to find a treatment that stops the neurodegeneration and restores the dopamine function above the level of clinical symptoms. The aim of the neurorestoration therapy is to reverse the intracellular environment towards restoration of the dopamine phenotype. In finding restoration therapy we have focused on neurotrophic factors and small molecules. We are using 6-OHDA model in mice and rats and MPTP-mouse model of Parkinson’s disease (Airavaara et al., 2013; Voutilainen et al., 2011]. We are looking at the mechanisms of neurodegeneration as well as neuroprotection and neurorestoration with a wide array of methods. We study these phenomena starting at the molecular and cellular level, and up to the neuronal networks. Furthermore, we are using electrophysiological and electrochemical methods to look at the function of nigrastriatal dopaminergic pathway, ie. the activity of the neurons in substantia nigra and the dopamine kinetics (release and reuptake) at their terminals in striatum. We have several novel mouse models, in which we can study GDNF, CDNF and MANF biology, and master a wide array of behavioral tests routinely used to study dopamine-regulated behaviors.

Collaboration

International: Prof. Michael Sendtner (University of Würzburg, Germany), Prof. Virginia Lee (University of Pennsylvania, USA), Dr. Kelvin Luk (University of Pennsylvania, USA), Prof. Xugang Xia (Thomas Jefferson University, USA), Prof. Patrick Mehlen (INSERM, Centre Léon Bérard, University of Lyon, France), Prof. Smita Saxena (University of Bern, Switzerland), Prof. Deniz Kirik and Åsa Petterson (University of Lund, Sweden)

National: Prof. Anu Wartiovaara, Prof. Dan Lindholm, Prof. Kari Alitalo, Prof. Pentti Tienari, Dr. Kira Holmström, Dr. Mikko Airavaara, Dr. Andrii Domanskyi (University of Helsinki)

Funding

Academy of Finland
ALS Association
ALS tutkimuksen tuki ry (ALStuttu)
Center for international mobility (CIMO)
Finnish Cultural Foundation
Department of Defense (USA)
Ella and Georg Ehnrooth Foundation
Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation
Alfred Kordelin Foundation
Finnish Parkinson Foundation
Päivi and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation
Tekes
University of Helsinki