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Richard L. Proia, Ph.D.

Photo of Richard Proia.
Scientific Focus Areas: Genetics and Genomics, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Neuroscience, Cell Biology

Professional Experience

  • NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow, NIDDK, 1981-1983, Advisor: Dr. Elizabeth F. Neufeld
  • Ph.D., University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 1980
  • B.S., Bates College, 1976

Research Goal

To understand how sphingolipids function normally and during diseases, and to develop therapies for the the diseases of sphingolipid metabolism.

Current Research

Sphingolipids, the topic of our research, were named after the Sphinx of Greek mythology because of their mysterious properties. It is now well-known that a major function for sphingolipids is to serve as building blocks for cell membranes. Sphingolipids also function directly as signaling molecules regulating basic functions in the vascular, nervous, and immune systems.

Sphingolipid metabolism is involved in human disease. This is most clearly seen in a family of inherited lysosomal storage disorders where blocks in the degradation of sphingolipids cause rare, and in most cases, neurodegenerative disease. These lysosomal storage disorders include Tay-Sachs disease, Sandhoff disease, Gaucher disease, Fabry disease, Krabbe disease, Farber disease and GM1 gangliosidosis. Gene defects affecting sphingolipid metabolism have also been linked to the more common neurodegenerative disorder, Parkinson's disease.

In our lab, we discover the functions of sphingolipids in normal biology and in disease using genetic approaches in mice and in patient cells. Ultimately, we aim to devise therapies for the diseases of sphingolipid metabolism.

Applying our Research

Sphingolipid metabolism has important biological functions, and its role in human disease is beginning to be appreciated. A deeper understanding of the sphingolipid metabolism holds potential for the development of novel therapies for human disease.

Need for Further Study

  • How altered sphingolipid metabolism causes disease.
  • How to treat patients with disorders of sphingolipid metabolism.

Select Publications

Sialidase NEU3 action on GM1 ganglioside is neuroprotective in GM1 gangliosidosis.
Allende ML, Lee YT, Byrnes C, Li C, Tuymetova G, Bakir JY, Nicoli ER, James VK, Brodbelt JS, Tifft CJ, Proia RL.
J Lipid Res (2023 Dec) 64:100463. Abstract/Full Text
SARS-CoV-2 ORF3a expression in brain disrupts the autophagy-lysosomal pathway, impairs sphingolipid homeostasis, and drives neuropathogenesis.
Zhu H, Byrnes C, Lee YT, Tuymetova G, Duffy HBD, Bakir JY, Pettit SN, Angina J, Springer DA, Allende ML, Kono M, Proia RL.
FASEB J (2023 May) 37:e22919. Abstract/Full Text
View More Publications

Research in Plain Language

Our lab studies the metabolism of sphingolipids, lipid molecules that form cell membranes and transmit signals to cells.  When sphingolipid levels are disrupted, neurodegenerative diseases may result. Sphingolipid metabolism diseases include Tay-Sachs disease, Sandhoff disease, Gaucher disease, Fabry disease, Krabbe disease, Farber disease and GM1 gangliosidosis.  The more common neurodegenerative disorder, Parkinson's disease, is also linked to defects in sphingolipid metabolism. Our work is aimed ultimately at devising treatments for the sphingolipid metabolism diseases.

Last Reviewed August 2023