Research group Mihaela Zavolan
The role of small RNAs in regulating gene expression
Studying how these very small molecules called miRNAs regulate gene expression could hold the key to new approaches to manipulate cell fate.
Although all cells in our bodies carry the same genetic material, they express different subsets of genes and thereby have widely different shape, sizes and functions. Rapid and precise changes in gene expression are achieved, among others, with the help of very small regulators called microRNAs (miRNAs) that have been co-opted during evolution in the regulation of cell differentiation, metabolism, and immune responses.
Small but important regulators
In the recent years, it has become clear that our genomes have a much richer structure than we originally thought, containing not only protein-coding genes but also a variety of long and short RNAs that frequently have regulatory functions. miRNAs are 22-nucleotide long molecules that regulate the expression of protein-coding genes and are essential to many processes. Our group studies the targets and mechanisms by which miRNAs regulate gene expression in normal and pathological conditions.
High-throughput data combined with computational models
Powerful technologies are available today that allow us to probe expression of essentially all genes at the same time. We analyze such high-throughput data obtained from various types of cells in the context of computational models, to understand how miRNAs exert their functions within gene regulatory networks.
Towards new strategies for manipulating cell function
Many miRNAs have been found to regulate cell division and differentiation. During pathological conditions, changes in the expression level of such miRNAs can promote tumor growth and metastasis. Understanding how these miRNAs act can lead to novel therapies and strategies for manipulating cell fate.