Lisa Ellerby, PhD

Professor, Buck Institute for Research on Aging

Adjunct Professor of Gerontology


Understanding the pathways that lead to nerve cell death in Huntington’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders


Lisa Ellerby, PhD, is an expert on cell death in neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington’s disease, a progressive inherited disorder that attacks both motor coordination and thinking ability. Ellerby and her Buck colleague Dr. Robert Hughes recently discovered a new lead to potential drug therapies for Huntington’s disease by focusing on a mysterious protein linked to the illness, the huntingtin protein (Htt). Huntington’s disease stems from a gene mutation that produces an abnormal form of the huntingtin protein, which breaks down into toxic fragments. These fragments accumulate in neurons, which malfunction and eventually die.  Ellerby and her team identified a set of enzymes that help split up Htt into fragments, and whose activity contributed to nerve toxicity. In a novel discovery, the lab found this harmful activity in a class of enzymes already implicated in stroke, cancer, and other disorders. Drug researchers have already developed experimental compounds to inhibit these enzymes, called the matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs).  Ellerby’s work suggests that inhibiting the MMPs may lessen symptoms of Huntington’s disease and prevent nerve cell death.  In a 2010 article about this research, Ellerby was one of the lead authors of the cover story in the prestigious scientific journal Neuron.

The Ellerby lab is also exploring possible methods to stimulate the growth of new nerve cells to replace those lost in Huntington’s disease sufferers.

Ellerby received her PhD in Chemistry from the University of California, Santa Cruz.  She took postdoctoral training in the Department of Biochemistry and Chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles.  She was a Senior Research Associate in Neurodegenerative Disease and Apoptosis and a Co-Investigator with the Program on Aging at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, CA before she joined the Buck Institute in 2000.

Email: lellerby@buckinstitute.org

Office Phone: 415-209-2088