NSF grant furthers neuroscience research for Li group

Dr. Lingjun Li, Pharmaceutical Sciences Division

Dr. Lingjun Li, Professor, Pharmaceutical Sciences Division

Lingjun Li, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor School of Pharmacy and Department of Chemistry, Janis Apinis Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, has received multi-year funding support from the Chemical Measurement and Imaging Program in the Division of Chemistry, at the National Science Foundation, to develop high performance mass spectrometry strategies for structural analysis of neuropeptides involved in environmental stress.

Significant changes in environmental conditions, such as hypoxia and pH stress, pose a physiological challenge to animals. There is a great deal of interest in understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms that regulate these stress-induced responses. Through this project entitled, “Exploiting ion mobility and high performance mass spectrometry for in-depth characterization of neuropeptides in hypoxia and pH stress,” Professor Li and her team will focus on the study of how the structures and the concentrations of neuropeptides in a crab change under the lack of oxygen (hypoxia) or under acidic or basic conditions (pH stress). As neuropeptides represent one of the most diverse and essential classes of molecules that regulate various physiological processes, new approaches and techniques are needed to enable a more complete description of these signaling molecules and quantify their changes in response to environmental stressors. Li and her group propose to develop a set of tools based on ion-mobility mass spectrometry to separate different peptides of different size-to-charge ratios. They will develop unique strategies to probe novel posttranslational modifications of neuropeptides such as D/L-peptide epimers and O-linked glycosylation. Cataloging different peptides detected and probing their dynamic changes will then help to understand their roles in the brain. The molecular insights gained from probing neurochemistry in response to stress could lead to a better understanding of neuroendocrine regulatory mechanisms involved in adapting to environmental stress, a process that is highly conserved among all organisms to maintain their survival in the face of both externally and internally generated “stimuli.”

The funded research takes advantage of the power of analytical chemistry tools to advance neuroscience research. This research also provides excellent training opportunities to graduate students and undergraduate students in Professor Li’s group to pursue a research career at the interface of chemistry and neuroscience.

Li’s research interests include analytical neurochemistry; neuropeptides; proteomics and peptidomics; biomarker discovery in neurodegenerative diseases; quantitative system biology; metabolomics; microseparations; imaging mass spectrometry and its application to drug delivery and biodistribution; biological mass spectrometry.