KYUSHU UNIVERSITY 先生の森KYUSHU UNIVERSITY 先生の森

I want to unlock the mystery hidden within neurons. I want to unlock the mystery hidden within neurons.Associate Professor, Medical Institute of Bioregulation ( 2017.04 ) Michiko Shirane

Associate Professor, Medical Institute of Bioregulation ( 2017.04 )

Michiko Shirane

Fascinated by the neurons that control the brain, Associate Professor Shirane tirelessly pursues her research night and day, in the hope of unraveling mysteries in the realm of the life sciences. She considers her life’s work on studying the control of nerve functions by protrudin, a new protein that she discovered by chance. “I’m entirely motivated by curiosity and the question ‘Why?’”

Fascinated by the neurons that control the brain, Associate Professor Shirane tirelessly pursues her research night and day, in the hope of unraveling mysteries in the realm of the life sciences. She considers her life's work on studying the control of nerve functions by protrudin, a new protein that she discovered by chance. "I'm entirely motivated by curiosity and the question 'Why?'"

Profile Details

Dr. Shirane was born and raised in Hikone City, Shiga. Having parents who were both physicians and having a researcher relative, she unhesitatingly chose the path on life sciences. However, during her student years, she focused more on enjoying her youth to the fullest. She devoted herself more on learning piano, playing volleyball, mountain climbing, and travelling than studying or doing research. After graduating from the Department of Biological Sciences at Osaka University's School of Science, she joined the research center of the multinational pharmaceutical company Roche. A few years later, inspired by an encounter with a top scientist from the U.S. , she experienced a complete transformation in her outlook and, despite being a late bloomer in the latter half of her 20s, she embarked on a life devoted to research. Having earned a Ph.D. degree from the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Tokyo in 1999, she was awarded a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) research fellowship in 2000. She was then selected as a Japan Science and Technology Agency PRESTO (Sakigake) researcher in 2003, and later became a researcher associated at the Kyushu University Medical Institute of Bioregulation in 2004. She has held her current position since 2006. In 2006, she discovered a new protein in the nerves called protrudin, which is the focus of her current research, and published her discovery in the prestigious scientific journal Science. She has received tremendous acclaim for her research, including being awarded the JSPS Prize in 2010. The person whom she respects the most is the baseball player Ichiro, with his "unflagging routine."

What is your research about?What is your research about?

Dr. Shirane was speaking cheerfully.

She explained the mechanism of neurons pointing the papers.

The staff in this laboratory have detected the data steadily every day.They discover new data relating to protrudin.

Dr. Shirane was speaking cheerfully.

The bodies of animals (including humans) contain various types of cells; of these, the neurons in the brain are particularly special. For instance, they have a unique shape, with long projections called neurites, which can be up to a meter in length. It is thanks to these projections that neurons at the top of the head can send signals and information all the way to our hands and feet. Neurotransmitters secreted by the neurons are carried along the projections, enabling information to be exchanged with other cells. Information is communicated from the head to the rest of the body and also exchanged within the brain. In other words, the actions of the brain and body (movement, perception, memory, thinking, emotion, etc.) are controlled by this information transmission network.

She explained the mechanism of neurons pointing the papers.

Within neurons, neurotransmitters and other signaling molecules are transported through the long projections in the proper direction and at the proper time. My research aims to shed light on this sophisticated transport mechanism, about which so little is yet known.

The staff in this laboratory have detected the data steadily every day.They discover new data relating to protrudin.

In 2006, I discovered protrudin, a new protein that promotes neurite outgrowth and transport within neurons. By researching its molecular mechanism, I discovered that genetic mutations in protrudin cause damage to neurites. It has been proven that this leads to a neurodegenerative disorder paralyzing the limbs. Mice generated to be deficient in protrudin experienced the onset of depression-like symptoms, so we also know that protrudin is involved in transporting secreted neurotransmitters (e.g. dopamine and serotonin) themselves.

Right now, my research involves investigating the mechanisms and pathologies that explain what function protrudin has in the transport system within neurons and why mutation in this gene leads to neurological disorders. To do so, I conduct experiments that make full use of experiments using mutant mice, drawing upon knowledge from the fields of biochemistry, genetics, and cellular biology. I primarily do basic research, seeking to shed light on mechanisms within neurons, but I hope that this will become useful in the field of medicine, by assisting in identifying the causes of relevant neurological disorders and developing applications to treat or prevent them.

The key to this research course is here!!The key to this research course is here!!

Encountering the mysteries of life and exploring their possibilities. Encountering the mysteries of life and exploring their possibilities.

The central nervous system is the most complex part of a living organism's body and there are many things that we do not understand about its workings and mechanisms. They are a mystery precisely because we do not understand them, so pursuing the answers to the questions "Why? How?" opens up an endless array of possibilities. This is because the two things that drive me and form the basis of my research are questions and a sense of curiosity. I feel reassured when something whose true character is unknown is proven scientifically. I find it tremendously enjoyable when the experiments and research that I steadily conduct every day turn out to be linked to things that we do not yet understand. The journey after that point is still long, though. <Laughs> When, after finding protrudin by chance, I discovered the growth of projections only seen in neurons, I was very excited.

At the same time, progress in science and technology has been spectacular in recent years and cutting-edge research is in the process of revealing what the nerve circuit looks like, in terms of the direction in which the neurite of a neuron is pointing. As a result, we are progressively untangling such knotty problems as the pathology of psychiatric disorders and the mechanisms controlling emotion. The most appealing thing for me is coming into contact with deeply interesting topics in such front-line environments.

DAILY SCHEDULEDAILY SCHEDULE


Time-out Session

Dr. Shirane also goes to her lab on weekends. She works in a different way than on weekdays, taking care to get her thoughts in order, and also doing things that make her feel more refreshed and relaxed. She gets a change of scenery by going shopping or for a drive in her beloved Lexus. Due in part to the fact that she learned the piano until she finished high school, she often listens to Mozart’s piano concertos and Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.Professor Toko said, “For me, there is no such concept as off-time or holidays. The distinction between work and private time, between weekdays and weekends, is vague and I also go to the university on Saturdays and Sundays. Every day is spent at around the same even pace. Thus, I never have ‘one spare hour.’ Please forgive me!”

The Teacher's Must-have Items!The Teacher's Must-have Items!

Pipetman

This is a long dropper, or pipette. You adjust the dial at the top to measure the desired quantity. "This is a basic item for my work; you could call it my partner."

Microscopes

Stereoscopic microscopes, fluorescence microscopes, and confocal microscopes are each used for specific purposes. "After all, we're dealing with tiny cells." She operates the controller while looking at the computer screen.

Computers

Dr. Shirane makes full use of Macs, with an iMac in her lab, a MacBook Air when on a work trip, and an iPad at conferences.

Message to the StudentsMessage to the Students

Use every day wisely. Stay calm, no matter what happens.

My research involves constant, patient effort, so it certainly is not easy, but the joy of pursuing my dream of shedding light on the mysteries of life and the sense of reward that this brings make the effort worthwhile. To discover something for the first time in the world, you have to carry out experiments and study hard every single day, repeatedly achieving small successes. It does require perseverance, but that is why the joy is all the greater when it does bear fruit.

Until quite a few years after reaching adulthood, I never even imagined that I would dedicate my life to research. But once I actually did choose this path, it turned out to be unexpectedly interesting. I hope that all you students will take care not to close the door on the potential within you and that you will develop an interest in a range of different paths. I am sure that all jobs are the same; it is unlikely that everything will go the way you want it to all the time. However, if you use each day wisely and stay calm, just doing what you should, every single day, one day a breakthrough will appear, as if from nowhere!

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