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Student Spotlight: James Overly

MAY 09, 2024

My name is James Overly, and I am junior biology and neuroscience student. I have been in the lab of Daniel Lee, MD, at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging for two years, where we study Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies. Under Dr. Lee’s mentorship, my focus on Alzheimer's disease and related tauopathies brought me towards the study of polyamine metabolism and the polyamine stress response (PSR). This work investigates the role of polyamines, aliphatic polycations essential for various physiological functions, particularly under conditions of stress. While a short-term increase in polyamine concentrations may confer benefits in acute stress situations, prolonged stress can lead to what we term a polyamine stress response (PSR), resulting in homeostatic dysregulation, and further AD pathogenesis.

My research zeroes in on the role of the enzyme SSAT1, traditionally known for acetylating polyamines, and its novel interaction with Tau, a microtubule-stabilizing protein associated with neurodegeneration. This interaction suggests that SSAT1 acts as a Tau acetyltransferase through the polyamine pathway. Our discovery that SSAT1 also acetylates tau opens new doors to understanding the mechanisms of Tau aggregation—a major pathological hallmark of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's.

Recently, I had the opportunity to present this research at UK’s own “Showcase of Undergraduate Scholars”, and at the “National Conference of Undergraduate Research” (NCUR). At NCUR, I received a “Best Undergraduate Poster” award from the SENS Foundation and the Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR). Research has been an incredibly rewarding aspect of my undergraduate experience, and as a research ambassador for UK’s Office of Undergraduate Research, I try to promote research to as many undergraduate students as possible.

Outside of the laboratory, I am also a Gaines Fellow with the Gaines Center for the Humanities. This winter, I had the opportunity to present a grant proposal to Women in Philanthropy, aimed at funding an interdisciplinary exhibit focused on addiction and substance use disorders. Thanks to their generous support, eleven other junior Gaines Fellows and I were able to curate this exhibit.

Our exhibit, located at the Commonwealth House on East Maxwell Street—a physical junction between our campus and the Lexington community—aims to destigmatize addiction and encourage open, meaningful conversations about recovery and understanding. By sharing the amazing work being done at UK and the experiences of our community members in a supportive space, we hope to break down barriers and foster a community dialogue that can lead to real change and deeper understanding. It remains open to the public until May 28th, and more information can be found here:

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