Bearer's interest in the brain, the mind, and their disorders propelled her into biomedical sciences. She uses many different imaging technologies, coupled with molecular genetics and computational modeling, to study circuitry dynamics in health and disease states.
Bearer’s research began with studies at the finest detail of membrane dynamics involved in synaptic transmitter release. She developed imaging labels for anionic lipids and made the earliest observations of membrane lipid rafts and the protein biochemistry of actin modulators. During this development, she identified proteins that drive filament formation and mapped one, kaptin/2E4, on human chromosome 19. These discoveries showed that mutations in the promoter region lead to inherited deafness.
Using herpes virus as a tool and the squid giant axon as a model, her lab then discovered that amyloid precursor protein, the major component in Alzheimer’s plaques, recruited cytoskeletal motors to cargo for transport. In 2004, as a Moore Distinguished Scholar at California Technical Institute, she began developing magnetic resonance imaging with Russ Jacobs, Jack Roberts, and Scott Fraser for live imaging of circuitry in mouse models of human neurological and psychiatric disorders.
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New publication from the Bearer Lab reporting for the first time the role of kinesin-1 in the living mammalian brain, witnessed with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. The first author, Christopher Stephen Medina, is a UNM BA-MD student in his second year of medical school.
Medina, CS, Biris, O, Falzone, T, Zhang, XW, Zimmermann, AJ, and Bearer EL. Hippocampal to basal forebrain axonal transport of Mn2+ is impaired by deletion of KLC1, a subunit of the conventional kinesin microtubule-based motor. Neuroimage. 2016 Oct 14. pii: S1053-8119(16)30497-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.09.035. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 27751944
March 25, 2016
Bearer's work on transport has made significant discoveries on Alzheimer's dementia, including the controversial opinion that microbes that travel inside neurons may play a role. This opinion was dramatically presented last week (March 18, 2016) in Journal of Alzheimer's Research by a consortium of over 30 investigators from 7 different countries. Scientific American picked up the idea and posted a thoughtful commentary on this controversial opinion, showing support for the idea and for further research on microbial affects on the brain from investigators at Harvard, Stanford, and Washington University in St. Louis. While over 100 scientific publications defend the possibility and describe evidence of links between microbes and Alzheimer's many scientists remained unconvinced, an opinion based on three publications. The infections linked to Alzheimer's Disease are commonly acquired in childhood. Clearly the degree of controversy demands that the topic be studied further, especially since infectious etiologies are often treatable whereas to date, after billions of dollars spent on finding a cure, no treatment for Alzheimer's disease has yet been found.
Microbes and Alzheimer's Disease. Itzhaki RF, Lathe R, Balin BJ, Ball MJ, Bearer EL, Braak H, Bullido MJ, Carter C, Clerici M, Cosby SL, Del Tredici K, Field H, Fulop T, Grassi C, Griffin WS, Haas J, Hudson AP, Kamer AR, Kell DB, Licastro F, Letenneur L, Lövheim H, Mancuso R, Miklossy J, Otth C, Palamara AT, Perry G, Preston C, Pretorius E, Strandberg T, Tabet N, Taylor-Robinson SD, Whittum-Hudson JA. J Alzheimers Dis. 2016 Mar 8. [Epub ahead of print] No abstract available. PMID: 26967229
HSV gets into the brain, here's how we think it works: Virus infects the lip and makes a cold sore. By breaking through the skin, it gets into neurons and travels up their long processes into the brain. Many other viruses also do this, like polio and rabies. HSV is composed of four concentric compartments, each of which play their part in this nasty business. When HSV enters a neuron it can live forever, sleeping near the nucleus. When HSV re-awakens, it does more damage, traveling back the way it came.
Inside cells, HSV reproduces, make many many tiny viral particles. These babies have a problem--how to get out of the cell and into another cell to promote the infection. The Bearer lab has discovered that this birth involves a dance between the virus and the cellular protein, APP. APP is the protein that makes the plaques that clog the brain in Alzheimer's disease. Thus we suspect that re-awakened virus in the brain can mess up APP and precipitate plaques, leading to Alzheimer's or other brain damage.
Bearer’s studies of the brain zoom down to the molecular detail of the squid, platelets, and cell culture. They also explore whole-brain imaging by magnetic resonance of circuitry dynamics and changes over time in living mouse models of human mental disorders, neurological disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases. Bearer collaborates with Russ Jacobs at the California Institute of Technology for high field MR imaging of living mouse brains.
An emerging interest concerns the developing mind and how perinatal events may spark long-term consequences by impacting genetic regulation and functional brain connectivity. Bearer collaborates with Scott Fraser at USC for imaging of the developing brain in various animal models.
Brain Cancer Modeling
In addition, Bearer has a long-standing collaboration with Prof. Vittorio Cristini and his team of chemical engineers and computational biologists to develop methods for modeling biological process using the first principles of physics. Utilizing archival pathological material primarily of brain tumors, Bearer and Cristini have validated a series of mathematical models describing tumor behavior and predicting treatment outcomes from standard diagnostic tests. Bearer accepts consults.
Music and Mind
Bearer's work on the mind-brain continuum focuses on theoretical and philosophical reflections, original music compositions, and public lectures. See the Music and Mind tab in this site for more information and to listen to a few of her works.
Image credit: Mlle. Nadia Boulanger at Fontainebleau, photographed for Elaine L. Bearer by Guy Vacheret
Bearer also participates in a medical outreach clinic in Guatemala and holds secondary appointments in Neurosurgery and in the UNM Music Department. She teaches medical students and graduate courses and serves on steering and curriculum committees. She teaches musical composition in the Music Department at UNM.