Personal profile

Biography

2014

Professor of Cellular & Developmental Neurobiology

2004
Senior lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Manchester, UK.

2000
Habilitation; Independent group leader at the Institute of Genetics, Mainz University; Supported by a Heisenberg-fellowship.

1997-2000
Postdoctoral position at the Institute of Genetics, Mainz University; Establishment of own research group at the institute.

1993-1997
Postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Dr. M. Bate at the Department of Zoology, Cambridge (UK); Supported by a 'Human Capital and Mobility fellowship' (EU) and a research fellowship by the 'Lloyd's of London Tercentenery Foundation'.

1989-1993
Ph.D. project supervised by Prof. Dr. G. M. Technau at the Institute of Genetics, Mainz University (Germany).

1983-1989
Studies at Bayreuth University (Germany) then Cologne University (Germany).

Research interests

How our nerves survive for decades

Axons are the up-to-meter long processes of nerve cells which form the biological cables that wire nervous systems. We lose 40% of axons towards high age, and neurodegeneration usually starts in axons. Most forms of axon degeneration correlate with defects of their life-sustaining long-range cargo transport from and to the very distant cell body (Prokop, 2021).

This transport is performed by motor proteins moving along MTs that form parallel bundles extending uninterruptedly through the entire axon (Prokop, 2020). Since this transport inflicts substantial mechanical load on MTs, they are at risk of losing their parallel arrangements and become disordered, thus triggering axonal transport defects and axonopathy (Prokop, 2021). A central question is therefore how these constantly challenged MT bundles can maintain their parallel architecture for decades.

To address this complex yet crucial question, we pioneered primary neurons of the fruit fly Drosophila as a uniquely powerful system (Hahn et al., 2019; Prokop, 2016; Prokop et al., 2013). These neurons are easy and fast to culture, show growth dynamics and MT bundle phenotypes reminiscent of mammalian neurons, the underlying mechanisms tend to be well-conserved hence biomedically relevant, and can be dissected with highly efficient genetic manipulations: up to ~5 mutations/transgenes can be combined in the same neurons, ideal to tackle problems of redundancy and to understand genetic networks rather than restrict to mechanisms of single factors. My group alone has generated an unprecedented pool of functional data for >50 actin- and microtubule-binding proteins, which has enabled us to uncover genetic networks and novel concepts of MT bundle regulation (Alves-Silva et al., 2012; Beaven et al., 2015; Hahn et al., 2021; Qu et al., 2019; Qu et al., 2017), culminating in the "dependency cycle of local axon homeostasis" as a model explaining axonopathies (Prokop, 2021). Please get in contact if you are interested in a possible project on this topic based on your own ideas, or ideas that have emerged through our work.

Opportunities

The cellular mechanisms of neurodegeneration during ageing and injury

The nervous system is wired by cable-like cellular protrusions called axons which form synapses with distant partner cells and can therefore be meters (!) long. To uphold brain function, these delicate structures need to be maintained for decades in the ageing brain, and they have to regenerate after damage (a process which involves controlled degeneration). The mechanisms of axon maintenance and controlled degeneration are not understood, but are believed to relate to the cytoskeleton: in particular to bundles of filamentous microtubules which form the structural backbone and highways for life-sustaining transport between neuronal cell bodies and their distant synapses. We pioneer this field of studies through using the fruit fly Drosophila which offers enormously powerful genetic and experimental strategies. Through using flies, we were able to unravel several candidate mechanisms and develop a working model for the above phenomena. Work in the laboratory is now dedicated to testing this model and exploring its relevance for mammalian neurobiology.

You can be part of this exciting pioneering endeavour which is of enormous biomedical relevance, when considering the social burden of age- or injury-related nervous system disorders. You will work in a fully equipped laboratory, in a large faculty providing rich opportunities to interact and first-class core facilities (imaging, EM, biomolecular analysis; http://www.ls.manchester.ac.uk/research/facilities/). Your project will be interdisciplinary, providing excellent training opportunities including fly genetics (as pioneered by us: http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.106631), molecular biology, biochemistry, primary neuron cultures, state-of-the-art fluorescent and in vivo imaging (including super-resolution microscopy) and, depending on your topic choice, also material science/biophysical approaches and/or electron microscopy.

You will be provided with excellent training in transferable skills and inspiring project supervision, but you need to be motivation-driven and able to take ownership of your research, thus actively helping us to achieve the overarching objectives of our work.

  • Prokop, A. (2013). The intricate relationship between microtubules and their associated motor proteins during axon growth and maintenance. Neur Dev 8, 17 -- http://www.neuraldevelopment.com/content/8/1/17
  • Prokop, A., Beaven, R., Qu, Y., Sánchez-Soriano, N. (2013). Using fly genetics to dissect the cytoskeletal machinery of neurons during axonal growth and maintenance. J. Cell Sci. 126, 2331-41 -- http://dx.doi.org/10.1242/jcs.126912

Teaching

Teaching Interests

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Christabel Pankhurst Institute

Keywords

  • nervous system
  • nerve cells
  • neurons
  • neurodegeneration
  • axons
  • neural development
  • cell biology
  • neurobiology
  • neuroscience
  • genetics
  • developmental biology
  • cytoskeleton
  • synapses
  • microtubules
  • actin

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