UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Professor Hélène Plun-Favreau's Group

Plun-Favreau Laboratory – Mitophagy and neurodegeneration

Professor Helene Plun-Favreau

Dr Helen Plun-Favreau

Helene Plun-Favreau is a cell biologist by training.

After a PhD in France (Angers University) in signal transduction, Helene did her postdoctoral work with Professor Julian Downward at CRUK. The discoveries and work she did in this area led her towards neurodegeneration and she was successful in being appointed to an MRC Career Development Fellowship to work in the Department of Molecular Neuroscience at UCL Institute of Neurology. Since her arrival in 2007 Helene has carried out some significant work on the molecular pathways associated with mitophagy and other mitochondrial dysfunctions in neurodegenerative disorders. The approaches they have undertaken require live cell microscopy and complex molecular and cellular biology, and provide a more complete picture of the pathways that play a role in the pathogenesis of neurodegeneration.

Our research

In recent years, it has become clear that even in clinically distinct neurodegenerative conditions, there are common underlying themes in how the neurons become sick and die. One such theme is a breakdown in the maintenance of mitochondria, which plays a central role in Parkinson’s disease and in other neurodegenerative conditions.

Mitochondria are the ‘energy powerhouses’ of cells. Their function is vital in long-lived neurons, where mitochondria must be maintained for an entire lifetime, and where a great deal of energy is required for them to function and survive.

The selective autophagy of damaged mitochondria (mitophagy) is critical for cell survival as it maintains optimal cellular energy production whilst avoiding the toxic accumulation of damaged mitochondria. Important information about the control of mitophagy has come from the study of the genes associated with autosomal recessive Parkinson’s disease. Of particular interest, PINK1 (mitochondrial kinase) and Parkin (E3-ubiquitin ligase) have been found to play crucial roles in mitophagy.

Against this background, our lab focuses on the following themes:

- Understanding further the mitophagy process

- Identifying the major molecular players in PINK1-induced mitophagy.

- Unravelling the upstream pathways that regulate the mitophagy process.

- Assessing mitophagy and other mitochondrial dysfunctions in iPSC-derived neurons from patients with Parkinson’s disease, and with other neurodegenerative diseases (E.g Alzheimer’s disease, Frontotemporal Dementia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, mitochondrial DNA disease etc).

Our ultimate goal is to identify compounds that are able to modulate mitophagy and rescue mitochondrial pathophysiology and neuronal death.

10 selected publications

Members of the lab

Dr Joseph Hamilton

Dr Joseph Hamilton

Dr Joseph Hamilton (2021-present) studied Forensic Psychobiology at Abertay University, before transitioning into the neuroscience field via an MSc degree at UCL. During his PhD at UCL, he investigated the role of DNA repair genes in Huntington’s disease pathogenesis. Currently, his work concerns the role of genetic modifiers of Parkinson’s disease progression, which is funded by  ASAP (Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s).

Amy Hicks

amy hicks
Amy Hicks (2019-present) studied Neuroscience at the University of Leeds before starting a Wolfson-Eisai PhD studentship in Neurodegeneration. Amy is in her final year of her PhD which involves using transcriptomic data to study gene regulatory relationships between Parkinson’s disease-associated genes. She is co-supervised by Professor Mina Ryten.

Katie Kelly

katie kelly

Katie Kelly (2019-2020 & 2021-present) studied Molecular Biology at University College London, before starting the Dementia Neuroscience MSc degree at IoN. During this time, she undertook her Research Project within the HPF lab. Now she is in her second year of her Wolfson- Eisai PhD studentship, funded by the Masonic Charitable foundation. Co-supervised by Claudia Manzoni, her work harnesses bioinformatics techniques to make guide biological investigation into the role of OGT, a member of the NSL complex, in mitophagy.  

Dr Jonas Mechtersheimer

jonas Mechtersheimer

Jonas Mechtersheimer (2021 – present) studied Neurosciences at the University of Zürich where he was awarded his MSc. He subsequently started his PhD in Molecular Biology at the University of Bern under and upon relocation of the research group to London, he was awarded the PhD from King’s College London (KCL) in 2020.

He is currently elucidating potential mitochondrial dysfunction in the early stages of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in a MRC funded joint grant between UCL and KCL under the supervision of Helene Plun-Favreau, Anny Fleur Devoy and Marc-David Ruepp. He specialises in the generation of cellular models of ALS using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and genome editing.   

Dr Benjamin O'Callaghan

Ben O'Callaghan
Dr Ben O’Callaghan (2020-present) studied Pharmacology at UCL, before completing a PhD in Neuroscience at the Queen Square Institute of Neurology. Ben’s current work is focused on understanding pathomechanistic cellular pathways linked with Parkinson’s Disease genetic risk factors, with a particular interest in regulators of the PINK1-mitophagy process

Capucine de Talhouet

Capucine de Talhouet (2021- 2022, 2022 - present) studied Biochemistry at the University of Bath before doing a MSc in Dementia Research (Neuroscience) at University College London. During her MSc research project, which she completed in the HPF lab, she explored the mechanisms by which small molecule modulator of epigenetic modifying enzymes affect mitophagy in the context of Parkinson’s Disease. Currently, Capucine has started a PhD in the HPF lab for which she will investigate the role of a Parkinson’s Disease risk gene in PINK1-dependent mitophagy. 

Iria Trasobares Magdalena

Iria Trasobares Magdalena
Iria Trasobares Magdalena (2022-present) studied Pharmacy at University of Santiago de Compostela where she undertook an eleven-month research internship at Ludwig Maximilians-Universität. Afterwards, she studied the MRes of Multidiscipllinary Research in Experimental Sciences at the Pompeu Fabra University. During this time, she performed her minor and major research projects at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB). Currently she is in her first year of the UCL-Birkbeck MRC iCASE PhD studentship in collaboration with BenevolentAI drug discovery company, working on the validation of novel Parkinson’s Disease target genes by Artificial Intelligence-based predictions. She is co-supervised by Dr. Bethan Kilpatrick (BenevolentAI).

Samantha Yu

samantha yu

Samantha Yu (2019-2020 & 2021-present) studied Neuroscience at University of Bristol before joining the HPF lab as an MRes Brain Sciences student at University College London. During her MRes project she studied the role of OGT in mitophagy initiation. She is now a research assistant in the lab looking at Parkinson's disease-associated genes and their relation to mitophagy using a high-content mitophagy screening platform. This work is collaborated with the ARUK UCL Drug Discovery Institute and is funded by ASAP (Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s).