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Joanna WilliamsAssociate Professor Joanna Williams' research team applies the tools of molecular biology to uncover the mechanisms underlying how the brain adapts and responds when memories are formed.  
Ageing, brain trauma and neurological diseases result in the deterioration of memories and have catastrophic effects for individuals and society as a whole. It is important for us to understand the molecular steps involved in the maintenance of memories and identify how these are perturbed in disease.

A long-term research interest of this group has been to understand memory mechanisms, how the brain stores information. Using modern molecular biological, bioinformatics and proteomic techniques they have built up a portfolio of studies focused on the regulation of key glutamate receptors involved in memory processes, as well as how gene expression is altered in response to memory events. Most recently, they are pursuing evidence that microRNA, newly identified key regulators of gene expression, control memory-related gene expression profiles. They believe that understanding how memories are formed will lead to a greater understanding of the molecular pathology underlying age-related memory loss and diseases of the brain.

Williams' lab is intensively researching a protein called sAPPα, a secreted protein fragment derived from the same parent molecule as amyloid-ß. Unlike amyloid-ß, the pathological agent in Alzheimer's disease, sAPPα has neuroprotective and memory enhancing functions. They are working to uncover both the molecular mechanisms underlying these positive functions and the specific regions within sAPPα which confer these properties as they may have therapeutic potential.

Recently, they have added a new dimension to their research portfolio which aims to identify biomarkers within plasma which may predict neurological diseases. Currently this work focuses on Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.

Her work is funded through the Health Research Council of New Zealand, Marsden Fund, Lottery Health New Zealand Neurological Foundation and the Otago Grants Committee.

Find out more about Associate Professor Joanna Williams' research


Guévremont, D., Roy, J., Cutfield, N. J., & Williams, J. M. (2023). MicroRNAs in Parkinson's disease: A systematic review and diagnostic accuracy meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 13(1), 16272. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-43096-9

Tippett, L. J., Cawston, E. E., Morgan, C. A., Melzer, T. R., Brickell, K. L., Ilse, C., … Le Heron, C., Buchanan, S., … Anderson, T. J., Williams, J. M., Cutfield, N. J., Dalrymple-Alford, J. C., … the NZ-DPRC. (2023). Dementia Prevention Research Clinic: A longitudinal study investigating factors influencing the development of Alzheimer’s disease in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 53(4), 489-510. doi: 10.1080/03036758.2022.2098780

Ryan, B., O'Mara Baker, A., Ilse, C., Brickell, K. L., Kersten, H. M., Williams, J. M., … Curtis, M. A. (2023). The New Zealand Genetic Frontotemporal Dementia Study (FTDGeNZ): A longitudinal study of pre-symptomatic biomarkers. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 53(4), 511-531. doi: 10.1080/03036758.2022.2101483

Spoelstra, H. E., Westlake, C. M., & Williams, J. M. (2022). The relationship between secreted amyloid precursor protein alpha (sAPPα) and the cell surface expression of NMDA glutamate receptors: A time-course study. In L. Wilson, H. Harcombe, P. Jayakaran, L. Burga, J. Antony, K. Morgaine, M. Garelja, A. Middleton, M. Anwar & T. Milne (Eds.), Proceedings of the 264th Otago Medical School Research Society (OMSRS) Meeting: Masters/Honours Student Speaker Awards. Dunedin, New Zealand: OMSRS. Retrieved from

Lamichhane, R., Williams, J., Fouille, R., Tirand, C., Wedlock, L., Hannaway, R., & Ussher, J. E. (2022, August). Co-stimulatory function of 4-1BB during MAIT cell activation by bacteria. Poster session presented at the Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases Satellite Meeting: Queenstown Research Week, Queenstown, New Zealand.

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