UF neuroscientist earns NIH Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award

Dr. Eric Vitriol
Dr. Eric Vitriol

By Todd Taylor

A UF neuroscientist has earned a $1.86 million NIH award to further his lab’s research into the actin cytoskeleton, an integral component of cells that controls their ability to divide, move and communicate.

Eric A. Vitriol, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of anatomy & cell biology, received the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award, or MIRA, from the National Institutes of Health’s General Medical Sciences division.

The MIRA Award, also known as an R35, is designed to provide early stage investigators with financial stability and scientific flexibility to enhance productivity and increase the chances for important breakthroughs.

Using novel approaches that merge biochemical principles with cellular imaging, Vitriol’s research explores the mechanisms and cellular roles of actin dynamics driven by monomers. Actin is a protein that can exist as a single subunit called a monomer, or polymerize into long molecular chains called filaments. Vitriol will study how actin-based structures are controlled by changes made to the actin monomer pool in neuronal cells.

“Recent work in our lab has revealed distinct subgroups of monomers that can drive and modify actin dynamics in ways that profoundly influence cell behavior. These discoveries have also shown us that the rules of monomer polymerization are much more complex than previously thought,” said Vitriol, a member of UF’s Center for Translational Research in Neurodegenerative Disease. “Deciphering the mechanisms of monomer-driven actin dynamics is critical to understanding how actin functions in cells. It may also finally reveal why defects in monomer regulation are associated with cancer, inflammatory disorders, cardiac disease and neurodegeneration.”