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A gene needs to express itself in order to contribute to cellular functions. This requires information from the gene to be transcribed from DNA into an RNA molecule. Upon its transcription, each RNA molecule undergoes processing and passes through many stages of quality control and regulation, which are mediated by ribonucleoprotein complexes (RNPs). 

Ribonucleoprotein complexes (RNPs) form when proteins bind to an RNA molecule, and they coordinate all of the regulatory stages that the RNA passes through. We develop techniques that integrate biochemistry and computational biology to obtain a comprehensive map of interactions between proteins and their RNA partners within our cells. We developed the individual-nucleotide resolution UV crosslinking and immunoprecipitation of protein-RNA complexes (iCLIP), and a related method called hiCLIP, which reveals the RNA-RNA contacts and higher-order conformation of RNPs. We use these methods to study how the sequence and structure of RNAs defines the composition and function of RNPs. A schematic of iCLIP and related protocols is shown below, and see also the recent comprehensive review of CLIP and complementary methods.

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Cells can change their gene expression by modulating the composition of RNPs. Moreover, genetic studies have identified mutations that disrupt RNPs, which often cause neurologic diseases, particularly the motor neuron disease, also referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We wish to understand how these mutations affect the assembly of RNPs, thereby initiating the molecular cascade leading to such diseases. In particular, we focus on protein-RNA condensates, which form through large numbers of weak links that are commonly affected by disease-causing mutations.

We study the following questions:

  • How do multivalent protein-RNA, RNA-RNA and protein-protein interactions selectively form RNP condensates?

  • How are RNP condensates contribute to developmental decisions (such as neuronal differentiation), localised functions (such as synaptic plasticity) and cellular homeostasis upon stress or aging?

  • How does signalling modulate RNP condensation with high subcellular spatio-temporal precision?

  • How do new regulatory sites emerge from transposable elements and non-canonical splicing mechanisms, and how do RNA-protein networks evolve by counterbalancing repressive vs enhancing RNPs at multivalent RNA regions?

  • How do various types of disruptions in RNP condensation contribute to neurodegenerative diseases?

  • How can modulation of specific RNP condensates prevent disease progression at an early stage?