Mitochondria-associated membranes (MAM) and phospholipid import into mitochondria
Jean obtained a BSc in Chemistry from Bedford College, University of London (UK), and PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Pittsburgh (USA). Jean was born in Scotland. She is now a Professor at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada where she was a founding member (with her husband Dennis Vance) of an interdisciplinary lipid research group. Jean and Dennis have published 5 editions of an advanced lipid textbook (Biochemistry of Lipids, Lipoproteins and Membranes) that is widely used throughout the world. Jean has presented her research at many international venues and served on numerous scientific advisory boards and journal editorial boards such as J Biol Chem, J Lipid Res and Bioch Biophys Acta. In addition, she has organized and chaired several national and international conferences on lipids including a Gordon Conference, a Deuel Conference and an Aspen Kern Lipid Conference. Jean was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2008.
Jean’s research focusses on intracellular trafficking of lipids in mammalian cells. She has investigated the mechanism by which phosphatidylserine (PS) is transported from its site of synthesis on endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membranes into mitochondria where the PS is decarboxylated to phosphatidylethanolamine. She and her lab isolated from rat liver a specific ER membrane fraction associated with mitochondrial outer membranes; these mitochondria-associated membranes (or MAM) synthesize PS and mediate its import into mitochondria. These studies were the first demonstration of a functional role for membrane contact sites in inter-organelle lipid trafficking. Her lab has also generated and characterized mice lacking each PS synthase, as well as mice lacking PS decarboxylase in which mitochondrial function was severely impaired. In other studies, Jean’s lab investigated the synthesis/transport of cholesterol and phospholipids within astrocytes and compartmented cultures of primary mouse neurons. They also revealed a key role for Niemann-Pick C1 (NPC1) protein and cyclodextrin in cholesterol export from lysosomes in neurons isolated from a murine model of NPC1 disease. As recognition of her research on membrane contact sites and lipid trafficking Jean was awarded the EMBO International Wilhelm Bernhard Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.