College of Sciences staff

Dr Helen Fitzsimons staff profile picture

Contact details+64 (06) 356 9099  ext. 84712

Dr Helen Fitzsimons

Senior Lecturer

Institute of Fundamental Sciences

Research Expertise

Research Interests

My research involves investigation of the molecular mechanisms that underpin the formation and storage of memory. Memories are stored in synapses, the connections between neurons, and on storing a memory, specific combinations of neurons grow stronger connections. The molecular mechanisms that underpin the formation and maintenance of memory, sometimes over a whole life-time, are not well understood.

Current research in my lab is focused on the role of histone modifications in long-term memory formation. An emerging body of evidence indicates that the acetylation state of specific histone marks influences whether memories can be formed or not. Moreover, histone acetylation is dysregulated in animal models of Alzheimer's disease.

Drosophila is an ideal model organism for studying memory due to its tractability to genetic analysis and the reproducible memory assays that have been developed. For such a small organism, Drosophila has a remarkably complex brain, with 200,000 neurons.

Many different techniques are employed in the lab including molecular biology, immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy, genetic analyses and behavioural assays.

Thematics

Health and Well-being

Area of Expertise

Field of research codes
Biological Sciences (060000):
Central Nervous System (110903):
Epigenetics (incl. Genome Methylation and Epigenomics) (060404): Genetics (060400):
Medical And Health Sciences (110000):
Neurogenetics (060410):
Neurosciences (110900)

Research Projects

Summary of Research Projects

PositionCurrentCompleted
Project Leader37
Team Member01

Completed Projects

Project Title: Genetic dissection of long-term memory formation

My research group studies the molecular basis of memory, which involves the changes that occur to DNA and proteins within neurons (nerve cells) when memories are formed and stored. One of our specific interests is how long-term memory is regulated - what are the molecular processes that control whether a memory is formed or not? To investigate the molecular mechanisms that underpin memory, we use the fruit fly Drosophila as a model. Drosophila has a small yet highly organised brain of 200,000 neurons and is an ideal model for memory research because of the powerful tools available for genetic analysis as well as reproducible memory assays that have been developed. One of our areas of interest is a group of proteins called histone deacetylases, which have recently been shown to act as repressors of memory storage. In addition, some histone deacetylases are increased brain tissue from individuals with Alzheimer's disease, suggesting they may play a role in the cognitive dysfunction associated with Alzheimer's disease. We have found that a specific histone deacetylase, HDAC4, plays a critical role in regulation of long-term memory and our current research is focused on examining the specific mechanisms through which this occurs.
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Date Range: 2013 - 2013

Funding Body: Massey University

Project Team:

Research Outputs

Journal

Green, KA., Becker, Y., Tanaka, A., Takemoto, D., Fitzsimons, HL., Seiler, S., . . . Scott, B. (2017). SymB and SymC, two membrane associated proteins, are required for Epichloë festucae hyphal cell–cell fusion and maintenance of a mutualistic interaction with Lolium perenne. Molecular Microbiology. 103(4), 657-677
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H., Scott, D.
Schwartz, S., Truglio, M., Scott, MJ., & Fitzsimons, HL. (2016). Long-term memory in Drosophila is influenced by histone deacetylase HDAC4 interacting with SUMO-Conjugating enzyme UBC9. Genetics. 203(3), 1249-1264
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Green, KA., Becker, Y., Fitzsimons, HL., & Scott, B. (2016). An Epichloë festucae homologue of MOB3, a component of the STRIPAK complex, is required for the establishment of a mutualistic symbiotic interaction with Lolium perenne. Molecular Plant Pathology.
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H., Scott, D.
Linger, RJ., Belikoff, EJ., Yan, Y., Li, F., Wantuch, HA., Fitzsimons, HL., . . . Scott, MJ. (2016). Towards next generation maggot debridement therapy: Transgenic Lucilia sericata larvae that produce and secrete a human growth factor. BMC Biotechnology. 16(1)
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL. (2015). The Class IIa histone deacetylase HDAC4 and neuronal function: Nuclear nuisance and cytoplasmic stalwart?. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 123, 149-158
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL., Schwartz, S., Given, FM., & Scott, MJ. (2013). The histone deacetylase HDAC4 regulates long-term memory in Drosophila. PLoS ONE. 8(12)
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL., & Scott, MJ. (2011). Genetic modulation of Rpd3 expression impairs long-term courtship memory in Drosophila. PLoS ONE. 6(12)
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, H. (2010). The molecular basis of memory - a tale of snails and flies: How small model organisms can teach us about the brain. New Zealand BioScience. 19, 6-14
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Noe, F., Vaghi, V., Balducci, C., Fitzsimons, H., Bland, R., Zardoni, D., . . . Vezzani, A. (2010). Anticonvulsant effects and behavioural outcomes of rAAV serotype 1 vector-mediated neuropeptide Y overexpression in rat hippocampus. Gene Therapy. 17, 643-652
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL., Riban, V., Bland, RJ., Wendelken, JL., Sapan, CV., & During, MJ. (2010). Biodistribution and safety assessment of AAV2-GAD following intrasubthalamic injection in the rat. Journal of Gene Medicine. 12(4), 385-398
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Riban, V., Fitzsimons, HL., & During, MJ. (2009). Gene therapy in epilepsy. Epilepsia. 50(1), 24-32
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Noe, F., Frasca, A., Balducci, C., Carli, M., Sperk, G., Ferraguti, F., . . . Vezzani, A. (2009). Neuropeptide Y overexpression using recombinant adenoassociated viral vectors. Neurotherapeutics. 6(2), 300-306
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Franich, NR., Fitzsimons, HL., Fong, DM., Klugmann, M., During, MJ., & Young, D. (2008). AAV vector-mediated RNAi of mutant Huntingtin expression is neuroprotective in a novel genetic rat model of Huntington's disease. Molecular Therapy. 16(5), 947-956
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Jung, AE., Fitzsimons, HL., Bland, RJ., During, MJ., & Young, D. (2008). HSP70 and constitutively active HSF1 mediate protection against CDCrel-1-mediated toxicity. Molecular Therapy. 16(6), 1048-1055
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Emborg, M., Carbon, M., Holden, J., During, M., Ma, Y., Tang, C., . . . Eidelberg, D. (2007). Subthalamic glutamic acid decarboxylase gene therapy: Changes in motor function and cortical metabolism. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. 27(3), 501-509
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Kaplitt, MG., Feigin, A., Tang, C., Fitzsimons, HL., Mattis, P., Lawlor, PA., . . . During, MJ. (2007). Safety and tolerability of gene therapy with an adeno-associated virus (AAV) borne GAD gene for Parkinson's disease: an open label, phase I trial. Lancet. 369(9579), 2097-2105
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL., & During, MJ. (2006). Design and Optimization of Expression Cassettes Including Promoter Choice and Regulatory Elements. , 3-16
[Journal article]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.

IP

Fitzsimons, H., & Bland, R.(2007). . 20090098631A1: Nutter, McClennan and Fish, LLP: Novel glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) proteins and methods of use
[Patent]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.

Conference

Green, K., Becker, Y., Tanaka, A., Takemoto, D., Fitzsimons, H., Seiler, S., . . . Scott, B. (2017). SymB and SymC, two membrane associated proteins, are required for Epichloë festucae hyphal cell-cell fusion and maintenance of a mutualistic interaction with Lolium perenne. Poster session presented at the meeting of 29th Fungal Genetics Conference, Pacific Grove, California
[Conference Poster]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H., Scott, D.
Green, K., Becker, Y., Tanaka, A., Takemoto, D., Fitzsimons, H., Lalucque, H., . . . Scott, DB. (2016, September). SymB and SymC, two membrane associated proteins, are required for Epichloë festucae hyphal cell-cell fusion and establishment of a mutualistic interaction with Lolium perenne. Presented at Queenstown Research Week, Plant Molecular Biology Satellite Meeting. Nelson.
[Conference Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H., Scott, D.
Green, K., Becker, Y., Tanaka, A., Fitzsimons, H., Lalucque, H., Silar, P., . . . Scott, B. (2016). Two Epichloë festucae genes encoding putative membrane associated proteins are required for cell-cell fusion and E. festucae-Lolium perenne symbiosis. Poster session presented at the meeting of 13th European Conference on Fungal Genetics (ECFG13), Paris-La Villette
[Conference Poster]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H., Scott, D.
Fitzsimons, HL., & Freymuth, PS. (2015, August). Moesin - a memory molecule?. Presented at Palmerston North Medical Research Foundation Colloquium
[Conference Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL., Freymuth, PS., & Schwartz, S. (2015, August). HDAC4 and memory formation: Interaction with the actin cytoskeleton. Presented at Australasian Winter Conference for Brain Research. Queenstown, New Zealand.
[Conference Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL., & Freymuth, PS. (2015). The actin‐binding protein moesin and memory formation in Drosophila. Poster session presented at the meeting of Australasian Winter Conference for Brain Research. Queenstown, New Zealand
[Conference Poster]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL., & Schwartz, S. (2015). Investigating the HDAC4 memory pathway: interaction with ankyrin2?. Poster session presented at the meeting of Society for Neuroscience 2015 Annual Meeting. Chicago, IL, USA
[Conference Poster]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL., & Schwartz, S. (2014, October). A genetic screen for modifiers of HDAC4. Presented at 2014 European Fly Neurobiology. Hersonissos, Crete.
[Conference Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL. (2014, November). A protein to remember: investigating the role of HDAC4 in memory formation.. Presented at Genetics Otago Symposium. Dunedin, New Zealand.
[Conference Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL. (2014, August). Genetic analysis of the role of HDAC4 in long-term memory: interaction with the SUMO-conjugating enzyme Ubc9. Presented at 32nd Australasian Winter Conference on Brain Research. Queenstown, New Zealand.
[Conference Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL. (2013, August). "Regulation of long-term memory formation - the role of histone deacetylases". Presented at Palmerston North Medical Research Foundation Colloquium. Palmerston North.
[Conference Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL., & Scott MJ, . (2013, February). Genetic analysis of HDAC4 function in long-term memory. Presented at Australian Neuroscience Society. Melbourne, Australia.
[Conference Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL. (2011, September). The histone deacetylase Rpd3 regulates long-term courtship memory in Drosophila.. Presented at Queenstown Research Meeting - Epigenetics Satellite.
[Conference Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.

Other

Green, K., Becker, K., Tanaka, A., Fitzsimons, H., Laluque, H., Silar, P., . . . Scott, DB. (2016, April). SymB and SymC, two membrane associated proteins, are required for Epichloë festucae cell-cell fusion and for establishment of a mutualistic interaction with Lolium perenne. In Cell-cell fusion symposium, Braunschweig.
[Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H., Scott, D.
Fitzsimons, HL. (2015, November). Molecular Mechanisms of Memory. In University of the Third Age, Whanganui, all groups.
[Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL. (2015, August). Molecular Mechanisms of Memory. In University of the Third Age, Palmerston North Science Group.
[Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.
Fitzsimons, HL. (2013, March). Little brains that think big: what model organisms are teaching us about memory..
[Oral Presentation]Authored by: Fitzsimons, H.

Supervision and Teaching

Summary of Doctoral Supervision

PositionCurrentCompleted
Supervisor11
CoSupervisor02

Courses Coordinated

Completed Doctoral Supervision

Supervisor of:

  • 2017 - Silvia Schwartz - PhD
    Investigating the role of Histone Deacetylase HDAC4 in long-term memory formation

CoSupervisor of:

  • 2017 - Sarah Danielle Bond - PhD
    Histone H1 phosphorylation during mitosis
  • 2016 - Kimberly Anne Green - PhD
    A conserved signalling network regulates Epichloe festucae cell-cell fusion and mutualistic symbiotic interaction betwee E.festucae and Lolium perenne

Media and Links

Media

  • 27 Feb 2014 - Radio
    Our changing world: Fruit flies and memory
    I was interviewed for a story on my research on memory formation on the Radio New Zealand's "Our Changing World" programme
  • 25 Mar 2016 - Online
    Press for genetically modified Lucilia publication
    Linger et al (2016) was favourably discussed in articles on various websites including Metro.co.uk and TechTimes.com
  • 02 Aug 2016 - Online
    Blog article on manuscript
    A manuscript titled "Long-term Memory in Drosophila Is Influenced by the Histone Deacetylase HDAC4 Interacting with the SUMO-Conjugating Enzyme Ubc9" that was accepted for publication in Genetics was

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