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Gene Regulation By microRNA

July 29, 2009

Over the past decade microRNAs have emerged as key regulators of gene expression and have entirely revolutionized the way we think about gene regulation. The microRNA effector complex is involved in the regulation of approx. 30% of the human genes. During transcription the DNA is transcribed into messenger RNA encoding for proteins. The microRNA effector complex enables the cell to regulate which of the messenger RNAs are used for translation into proteins after transcription. The microRNA effector complex, consisting of small RNAs and associated proteins, is able to bind certain mRNA sequences and inhibit their translation to proteins. The exact mechanism how microRNAs fulfill this function is unknown.

“In our new research project we will investigate dynamic changes of the effector complex during the repression of the bound messenger RNA”, explains Silke Dorner. The young biochemist is particularly interested in the proteins of the complex and their conformational rearrangement during gene regulation.

“The deregulation of microRNAs has been implicated in a variety of human diseases including the development of cancer. Furthermore, antibodies against components of the microRNA effector complex have been found in patients with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus and other rheumatic diseases. Only a detailed mechanistic understanding of the process will ultimately allow us a targeted manipulation of deregulated miRNAs in disease development.” Though, the basic researcher warns of untimely hopes as research in this field is still at the very beginning. Initially, her experiments will be done in cells of the fruit fly. The fruit fly is a particularly amendable system for such studies since in contrast to human cells only one variant of the microRNA effector complex is present. Thus, it is easier for Silke Dorner to monitor the changes during microRNA binding in her experiments.

Establishing her independent research group in Vienna

Silke Dorner, born 1972 in St. Poelten, studied biochemistry at the University of Vienna and graduated in 2002. After two post-doctoral trainings, one at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA, and one at the Max-Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tbingen, Germany, she returned 2008 to the University of Vienna. As an Elise-Richter fellow (FWF) she currently establishes her independent research group at the Max F. Perutz Laboratories at the Campus Vienna Biocenter.

“The WWTF as an additional funding body strengthens Vienna as an excellent research location. The funding of more high-risk projects is especially important for us young scientists. Establishing an independent research group in life sciences takes longer than in other disciplines and therefore long-term funding is very important for young academics”, says Dorner, who is a member of the young academy (“žJunge Kurie”) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences since May 2009.

However, she also emphasizes the international and interactive atmosphere at the Campus Vienna Biocenter as extremely important for her independent research career. “The liveliness in biology and particularly the processes in cells fascinated me already during school. At that time, I decided to study biochemistry and become a researcher”, answers Dorner to the question, why the fascination of new discoveries influences her path of life.

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