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Seminar: Post transcriptional control of gene expression and its role in disease, Professor Anne Willis, MRC Toxicology Unit
Abstract: The ability of mammalian cells to modulate global protein synthesis in response to cellular stress is essential for cell survival. It is one of the most energy-demanding processes within the cell and in response to changes in ambient conditions, cells reduce global levels of protein synthesis to conserve energy and embark on the process of translational reprogramming, which is vital for the cellular response to stress. While control of protein synthesis is mediated by the regulation of eukaryotic initiation and elongation factors (eIFs and eEFs), RNA-binding proteins (RBPs), a heterogeneous class of molecule that orchestrate all aspects of RNA metabolism, provide a crucial additional layer to post-transcriptional regulation. RBPs through their interaction with RNA motifs within the 5’ and 3’ untranslated regions (UTRs) and coding region elements, allow selected mRNAs to evade the global translational shut down. Aberrant translational regulation occurs in a range of diseases including cancers and neurologicial disorders and novel mechanisms for modification of protein synthesis rates to treat disease will be discussed.
Biography: Professor Anne Willis graduated in 1984 with a degree in Biochemistry from the University of Kent and obtained a PhD in Biochemistry in 1987 from the University of London while working in the Imperial Cancer Research Fund laboratories (now CRUK) on DNA repair with Dr Tomas Lindahl. She then moved to Cambridge to work with Professor Richard Perham in the Department of Biochemistry where she also held a Junior Research Fellowship and then a College Lectureship at Churchill College Cambridge. She was appointed to her first independent position in 1992 as a Lecturer at the University of Leicester, progressing to a Reader in 2002 and a Professor in 2004. In 2004, she moved to Nottingham to take up the position of Director of Cancer Research Nottingham and Chair of Cancer Cell Biology. During this time she built up a large team of researchers working on various aspects of post-transcriptional control of gene expression.
In 2009 Professor Willis was awarded a five-year BBSRC Professorial Fellowship to research post-transcriptional control of gene expression following exposure of cells to agents that cause genotoxic stress. Research initiated by the Willis laboratory has identified a new network that regulates translation following exposure of cells to UVB light. Interestingly, similar pathways are also activated following exposure to chemotoxic agents.
In 2010 Professor Willis was appointed as Director of the MRC Toxicology Unit, based in Leicester. The mission of the Unit is to deliver field-changing mechanistic insights into toxicology and disease.