Description: A virtual alumni lecture at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, November 16, 2021: "Wandering in the Garden of Sphingolipids Searching for the Resilient Brain," a talk by Dr. Robert Yu, Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Medical College of Georgia, Augusta University, Augusta, GA.
Abstract: Sphingolipids belong to an important class of lipids that was first defined in 1947 by Dr. Herbert E. Carter. These lipids, including sphingomyelin, cerebrosides and gangliosides, share a common long-chain hydroxyamino constituent called sphingosine (Greek, to bind tight), whose structure had been elusive since its discovery by Thudichum (1829-1901) in brain lipids. Today, the garden of sphingolipids is blossoming with new discoveries about their unique properties and diverse bioactivities. More recently, Dr. Robert Yu’s laboratory has focused on characterizing stage-specific glycosphingolipids and related glycoconjugates in neural stem cells with the goal of elucidating the relationship between glycosphingolipid expression and cell fate determination. This fundamental work has greatly facilitated the investigation of living cells by providing useful biomarkers for investigating their cellular and subcellular localization by immunocytochemical techniques. More importantly, these stage-specific biomarkers enable us to examine the signaling pathways underlying cell-fate determination. Additionally, studies are in progress to apply curative gangliosides to regenerate functional nascent neurons in other similar neurodegenerative diseases. Since these age-related neurodegenerative diseases affect an increasing number of patients, our research will benefit millions of senior citizens, their families, and world society.
In addition to being an academician, Dr. Yu has a long history in promoting research in neuroscience and glycobiology. As President of the American Society of Neurochemistry, he participated in lobbying for the proclamation of “The Decade of the Brain” legislation that resulted in the doubling of NIH funding for neuroscience. In response to the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences Committee Report “Transforming Glycosciences, A Roadmap for the Future” that reiterates the importance and impact of glycomics and glycosciences (The National Academies Press, 2012). Dr. Yu has co-edited a book entitled: “Glycobiology of the Nervous System” (R. K. Yu and C.-L. Schengrund, Co-Eds., Springer, 2014; 584 pp; DOI 10.1007/978-1-4939-1154-7) to promote more emphasis on research in this area.