UH Med Now

RESEARCH: Meet Matthew Pitts, PhD, seeking new discoveries to fight neurological disorders

Date: January 22nd, 2016 in JABSOM News, Research    Print or PDF

Dr. Pitts in his lab.

You may have caught his research last fall in the Journal of Neroscience or being reported on by Science News magazine. Dr. Matthew Pitts is an Assistant Researcher in the Department of Cell & Molecular Biology at the University of Hawai’i John A. Burns School of Medicine.

“I think that I chose this profession because I am an intellectually curious person that finds the brain fascinating,” Pitts said. “Also, I aspire to find ways to help humans live healthier, more rewarding lives.”

Dr. Pitts is a neuroscientist investigating selenium metabolism and the functions of individual selenoproteins in the brain, a very complex process, but one which might yield better understanding of ways to combat neurological disease. Selenoproteins are a unique class of proteins that utilize the trace element, selenium. These proteins mitigate oxidative stress, which is a contributing factor to multiple neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and epilepsy.

Dr. Pitts is investigating selenium and brain function.


Dr. Pitts is investigating selenium and brain function.

“Our laboratory studies both selenium metabolism and the biological functions of individual selenoproteins,” said Dr. Pitts. “The insight provided by these studies may identify new mechanisms underlying disease and promote development of novel treatments that mitigate oxidative stress.” In Dr. Pitts’ most recent paper in the Journal of Neuroscience, he and his colleagues showed that the brain and testes compete for selenium under certain circumstances. The article is titled “Competition between the brain and testes under selenium compromised conditions: Insight into sex differences in selenium metabolism and risk of neurodevelopmental disease.”

Matthew Pitts, PhD


Matthew Pitts, PhD

Significant Recent Publications:
1. Pitts MW, Kremer PM, Hashimoto AC, Torres DJ, Byrns CN, Williams CS, Berry MJ (2015) Competition between the brain and testes under selenium compromised conditions: Insight into sex differences in selenium metabolism and risk of neurodevelopmental disease. Journal of Neuroscience: in press.
2. Byrns CN, Pitts MW, Gilman CA, Hashimoto AC, Berry MJ (2014) Mice lacking selenoprotein P and selenocysteine lyase exhibit severe neurological dysfunction, neurodegeneration, and audiogenic seizures. Journal of Biological Chemistry 289: 9662-9674.
3. Pitts MW, Reeves MA, Hashimoto AC, Ogawa A, Kremer P, Seale LA, Berry MJ (2013) Deletion of selenoprotein M leads to obesity without cognitive deficits. Journal of Biological Chemistry 288: 26121-26134.
4. Pitts MW, Raman AV, Hashimoto AC, Todorovic C, Nichols RA, Berry MJ (2012) Deletion of selenoprotein P results in impaired function of parvalbumin interneurons and alterations in fear learning and sensorimotor gating. Neuroscience 208: 58-68.
5. Pitts MW, Takahashi LK (2011) The central nucleus via corticotropin-releasing factor is necessary for time-limited consolidation processing but not storage of contextual fear memory. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 95: 86-91.
6. Pitts MW, Todorovic C, Blank T, Takahashi LK (2009) The central nucleus of the amygdala and corticotropin-releasing factor: Insights into contextual fear memory. Journal of Neuroscience 29: 7379-7388.

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