Our Work

Our lab investigates the sex-specific influence of androgens and estrogens on mitochondrial functions in the healthy and diseased brain across the lifespan.

The interaction between sex hormones and brain mitochondria is a complex area of study with significant implications for understanding sex-specific differences in brain health and disease. Mitochondria, known as the powerhouse of the cell for their role in generating adenosine triphosphate (ATP), are involved in various functions beyond energy production, including calcium buffering, reactive oxygen species (ROS) regulation, apoptosis, and critical signaling pathways for neuronal survival and synaptic plasticity. Traditionally associated with reproductive processes and sexual characteristics, these hormones also play essential roles in neuroprotection, cognition, learning, and mood regulation. Their levels fluctuate and decrease across the lifespan, notably during puberty, adulthood, and aging, which is important for understanding the higher incidence and prevalence of neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer's disease) in women, a historically neglected and under-studied group.

Understanding how sex hormones modulate mitochondrial functions in both healthy and diseased states is crucial for uncovering the underlying mechanisms of sex differences in brain aging and vulnerability to neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, elucidating the interplay between hormones and mitochondria may lead to novel therapeutic interventions targeting mitochondrial dysfunction to address age-related cognitive decline and neurodegeneration in a sex-specific manner. Our research has been key in revealing novel mechanisms underlying sex differences in brain aging and vulnerability to neurodegeneration, ultimately aiming to inform the development of sex-specific therapeutic interventions targeting mitochondrial dysfunction to promote healthy brain aging and reduce the burden of age-related neurodegenerative diseases.

Fig. 1- Flowchart illustrating the overarching aims and research interests.

Our Research Areas

How does hormonal decline during ageing, especially after menopause, affect brain energetics and increase the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's? We aim to understand the interaction between hormones and mitochondria.

Hormonal regulation affects mitochondrial function and integrity, but it is unclear how this response depends on sex. We are interested in understanding how female glial cells are more susceptible to inflammation than their male counterparts.

Patients with brain trauma suffer severe endocrine disruptions that alter hormone levels in the blood and brain. We explore how these perturbations cause chronic inflammation, bioenergetics impairment and altered neuroimmune signalling.

We design and repurpose drugs for mitochondrial protection in neurodegenerative diseases. We use drug- and structure-based screening tools to identify potential ligands for key proteins. We aim to optimise therapeutic effects and develop effective treatments.

We are located in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Limerick (UL), Ireland. Our group is associated with the Ph.D. programme in Biological Sciences and M.Sc. in Biomolecular Science at UL. Prospective students interested in graduate studies should apply through these programmes.