Casmir Turnquist

Graduate Research Prize Winners Autumn 2014

Casmir Turnquist

Originally from wintry Minnesota, USA, I came to Oxford to pursue a DPhil through the National Institutes of Health-Oxford Scholars Program (NIH OxCam). With the guidance of my exceptional mentors, Prof. Xin Lu (Ludwig Institute, Oxford) and Dr. Curtis Harris (National Cancer Institute, NIH), I have explored the molecular links between cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Interestingly, patients with Alzheimer's disease show a decreased risk of developing cancer and conversely, cancer patients are less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, shedding light on common mechanisms linking these two diseases. While neurodegeneration is characterized by accelerated cell death and senescence, cancers possess an inverse phenotype. Therefore, my doctoral research investigates how tumor suppressors, p53 and ASPP2, may direct these processes in neurodegenerative diseases.

Our recent PNAS publication demonstrates that ASPP2 functions as a “gatekeeper” against neuroinflammation and brain barrier disruption. In this study, major inflammatory mediator STAT1 was shown to transcriptionally target ASPP2, leading to p53-mediated apoptosis hence tipping the balance between survival and cell death. In the laboratory of Dr. Curtis Harris at NIH, I am further exploring the role of p53 isoforms in the regulation of cellular senescence in neurodegeneration.

I am grateful for the outstanding training I received at the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine. My research benefited from excellent mentorship and collaborations with clinicians and neuroscientists across Oxford.

Inflammatory astrocytes expressing ASPP2
Image: Immunofluorescence staining of human encephalitis brain tissue showing inflammatory astrocytes (red) expressing ASPP2 (green) (Turnquist et al., PNAS, 2014).


Turnquist C, Wang Y, Severson DT, Zhong S, Sun B, Constantinescu SN, Angsorge O, Stolp HB, Molńar Z, Szele FG, Lu X (2014). STAT1-induced ASPP2 transcription identified a link between neuroinflammation, cell polarity and tumor suppression. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 111(27): 9834-9839.

Stolp HB, Turnquist C, Dziegielewska KM, Saunders NR, Anthony DC, Molnar Z (2011). Reduced ventricular proliferation in the foetal cortex following maternal inflammation in mouse. Brain 134(11): 3236-3248.

Wang Y, Royer C, Serres S, Larkin J, Sarmiento SM, Sibson NR, Buti L, Osterburg C, Salter V, Fritzsche F, Koch S, Turnquist C, Olofsen P, Moch H, Hancock DC, Downward J, Lu X (2014). ASPP2 controls epithelial plasticity and inhibits metastasis via β-catenin-dependent regulation of ZEB1. Nature Cell Biology. doi:10.1038/ncb3050.

Izci Y, Seckin H, Medow J, Turnquist C, Baskaya MK (2009). Sulcal and gyral anatomy of the orbitofrontal cortex in relation to the recurrent artery of Heubner: an anatomical study. Surgical and Radiologic Anatomy 31(6): 439-445.