Faculty Profiles

Harvey, Berman
Berman, Harvey, PhD, MPHAssociate Professor
Email: hberman@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-2658

Specialty/Research Focus:
Molecular and Cellular Biology; Protein Function and Structure; Neuropharmacology

Piero, Bianco
Bianco, Piero, PhDAssociate Professor of Microbiology
Email: pbianco@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2599

Specialty/Research Focus:
Molecular genetics; Protein Function and Structure; DNA Replication, Recombination and Repair; Bacterial Pathogenesis

Research Summary:
My associates and I use a combination of biochemical and biophysical approaches to study the molecular basis of stalled DNA replication fork rescue. Our model organism is the well-characterized bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli), since the majority of the proteins thought to be involved in fork rescue are known. Most of our experimental work is concerned with the function and regulation of the complexes that control fork rescue, with studies focused primarily on the role of the single-strand DNA binding protein (SSB) and several recombination DNA helicases. Comparative studies are also underway using selected components of some medically relevant bacterial organisms. We collaborate with scientists from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other research institutions. The team working in my lab consists of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and a technician. We seek to understand fork rescue utilizing both bulk-phase and single molecule techniques. Typically, studies focus initially on purification and characterization of the various proteins (there are now more than 10 being studied). We study DNA binding, unwinding and the hydrolysis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) using a combination of modern spectroscopic (both ultraviolet–visible and fluorescence) and equilibrium binding methods. The goal of these initial studies is to understand the range of DNA substrates on which an enzyme can act, as a means to understanding its role in vivo. This is followed by careful single molecule studies using a technique I pioneered that combines optical tweezers, microfluidics and high-resolution fluorescence microscopy. My research team is also pursuing a new area of research targeted at developing small molecule inhibitors. These are aimed at disrupting binding between SSB and the 12-14 proteins comprising the SSB-interactome. As SSB is an essential protein and its binding to interactome partners is required for viability, the goal of these studies is to identify inhibitors that will be further developed into novel antibiotics.

Terry, Connell
Connell, Terry, PhDProfessor of Microbiology and Immunology, Adjunct Professor of Oral Biology
Email: connell@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3364

Specialty/Research Focus:
Allergy and Immunology; Medical Microbiology; Infectious Disease; Microbiology; Genomics and proteomics; Immunology; Microbial Pathogenesis; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular genetics; Gene Expression; Signal Transduction; Protein Function and Structure; Bacterial Pathogenesis

Research Summary:
Research efforts in my laboratory are focused in the fields of immunology and bacterial pathogenesis, two diverse fields of biomedical research for which I have two separate research groups. Projects in both fields are performed by undergraduates, doctoral and master’s degree students, postdoctoral fellows and senior research associates. One major focus of my laboratory is studying the regulation of mucosal immune responses. We investigate the cellular and molecular events by which Type II heat-labile enterotoxins (HLTs), produced by certain strains of Escherichia coli, modulate immune responses. We have demonstrated that LT-Ilia, LT-IIb and LT-IIc, when co-administered with an antigen, have the capacity to enhance antibody and cellular immune responses to that antigen. Using a variety of immunological and cellular technologies, including flow cytometry, fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) detection, cytokine multiplex analysis, mutagenesis, quantitative Reverse Transcription PCR (qRT-PCR), RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq) and a variety of transgenic mice, we are investigating the mechanisms by which these immunomodulators productively interact with various immunocompetent cells (T cells, B cells, dendritic cells, macrophages) to induce or suppress cytokine production, costimulatory ligand expression and cellular proliferation. A practical outgrowth of these experiments is the potential to engineer novel recombinant vaccines by genetically fusing antigens from different pathogens to the enterotoxins. Recent experiments have shown that these HLT are lethal for triple-negative breast cancer cells, which has opened a new area of oncological research for the lab. A second focus of my laboratory is to investigate the molecular mechanisms by which adherent-invasive Escherichia coli (AIEC) induce, exacerbate or prolong the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn’s disease, two acute and chronic inflammatory diseases of the human gut. In vitro, AIEC strains invade into the cytoplasm of several epithelial cell lines. Using recombinant screening methods and RNA-Seq technologies, we are identifying the genes of AIEC that are required to attach and to invade gut cells.

D. Fernando, Estrada
Estrada, D. Fernando, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: dfestrad@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-2767

Specialty/Research Focus:
Protein Function and Structure; Proteins and metalloenzymes; Vitamins and Trace Nutrient

Research Summary:
Cytochrome P450 enzymes are powerful catalysts that play integral roles in biochemical pathways throughout nature. In mammals, members of this class of enzyme serve a variety of functions that include drug metabolism, steroid biosynthesis and the activation and deactivation of vitamin D, to name a few. Cytochrome P450 enzymes are also heavily involved in bacterial and plant biochemistry. The overall goal of our research is to use a combination of biochemical and biophysical tools to investigate structure and function in class I cytochrome P450 enzymes, thereby contributing toward an understanding of how this important class of enzymes work as well as informing the design of therapeutics. This goal is divided between two efforts. First, we are interested in characterizing the substrate and redox partner interactions of the enzyme CYP24A1, the P450 responsible for deactivating vitamin D. Describing the interaction between CYP24A1 and vitamin D has the potential to illuminate how the vitamin D structure becomes modified at a particular site. This insight could impact the design of vitamin D analogs with benefits for an array of human health conditions, including bone density disorders, diabetes and chronic kidney disease (CKD). A parallel effort in our group is a structural study of the enzyme CYP121 of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the disease-causing pathogen in tuberculosis (TB). The resurgence of standard TB and the rise of drug-resistant forms of TB are quickly becoming a global pandemic, with TB claiming more lives worldwide in 2014 than HIV. CYP121 is essential for survival of the bacterium and thus has emerged as one of the more promising antitubercular drug targets. Students and postdocs joining my lab will be exposed to a multidisciplinary set of research tools, including expression and purification of recombinant membrane protein, nuclear magnetic resonance, protein X-ray crystallography and P450 ligand binding assays.

Andrew, Gulick
Gulick, Andrew, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: amgulick@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716)829-3696

Specialty/Research Focus:
Structural Biology; X-ray Crystallography; Microbial Pathogenesis; Microbiology; Protein Function and Structure; Proteins and metalloenzymes

Research Summary:
My research program aims to understand how bacteria produce natural products, small molecules that are secreted from the cell to adapt to diverse environments. These molecules allow the bacteria to compete with other microbes or, in the host-pathogen setting, to establish or exacerbate an infection. Natural product biosynthesis may therefore serve as a target for antimicrobial development. My lab uses a variety of techniques to examine these pathways. A core approach is to use X-ray crystallography to determine the molecular structure of proteins that catalyze important steps in natural product biosynthesis. Structural observations are tested and validated using biochemical techniques to examine the catalytic reactions. Finally, molecular and cellular techniques are used to examine biosynthetic gene cluster activity in the cell. These studies will inform efforts to engineer enzymes to produce novel natural product and identify new products of previously uncharacterized pathways. I have a long-standing interest in the Nonribosomal Peptide Synthetases (NRPSs), a family of large, multidomain enzymes that produce important peptide natural products like the antibiotic vancomycin or the anticancer agent bleomycin. NRPSs operate like an assembly line in which the nascent peptide is attached to a carrier domain that shuttles the synthetic intermediates to neighboring catalytic domains. The carrier and catalytic domains are often joined in a single polypeptide that is thousands of residues in length. By examine the crystal structures of large NRPS proteins, we have determined some of the features that enable this fascinating biosynthetic mechanism. Many NRPS products are siderophores, small molecules that bind iron and are required for growth in the pathogenic environment. My lab also studies aerobactin, an NRPS-independent siderophore pathway that is a virulence factor for hypervirulent Klebsiella pneumoniae. We have biochemically and structurally characterized the aerobactin biosynthetic pathway and have developed an approach to find inhibitors of aerobactin biosynthesis that may be tools to probe the pathway chemically to inhibit growth of this human pathogen.

Tracey, Ignatowski
Ignatowski, Tracey, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: tai1@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-3102

Specialty/Research Focus:
Neuroimmunology; Behavioral pharmacology; Gene therapy; Immunology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular Basis of Disease; Neurobiology; Gene Expression; Signal Transduction; Protein Function and Structure; Neuropharmacology

Research Summary:
My research spans three interrelated fields: chronic pain, depression and inflammation. Experiments in my laboratory focus on how brain-derived pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF), function as modulators of brain-body interactions during neuropathic pain and how brain-TNF is involved in the mechanism of action of antidepressant drugs. My overall goal is to advance knowledge of, and therapeutic efficacy for pain, depression, neuro-inflammation and drug addiction. This research is based on my earlier work showing that neurons produce the pro-inflammatory cytokine TNF and that the production of TNF by macrophages is regulated by neurotransmitters. Cytokines and neurotransmitters are principal signaling molecules that mediate bidirectional communication between the nervous and immune systems--the crosstalk important in maintaining homeostasis. Consequently, aberrant production of either of these two classes of mediators could profoundly affect signaling by the other, thereby impacting health. A shift in balanced cytokine-neuron interactions that regulate neurotransmitter release in the central nervous system (CNS), and that have potential behavioral consequences, manifest themselves as states of depression and chronic pain. My research uses both cell systems and animal models to test these hypotheses. Colleagues and I use a combination of imaging techniques to localize cytokine production, bioassays and ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays) for pharmacological and functional analyses, electrophysiological (brain slice stimulation) and molecular methods for our studies. In addition to investigating neuron functioning in the brain, trainees in my laboratory also study the peripheral macrophage, a major source of TNF during inflammation. Specifically studying neurotransmitter regulation of TNF production in the periphery is enhancing our knowledge of how the brain controls a peripheral inflammatory lesion. Our studies are designed to investigate the mechanisms of centrally mediated pain as associated with immune dysfunction and to elucidate mechanisms of drugs used to treat such pain states. My projects are evolving to investigate the mechanisms and neural pathways involved in TNF neuromodulator functions during chronic pain (due to peripheral nerve injury and diabetes) and stress-induced depressive behavior. We also study mechanisms contributing to the comorbidity of chronic pain and depression. I collaborate with researchers in several UB departments and at other institutions. Our projects include using noninvasive methods for delivery of anti-TNF therapeutics for chronic pain, elucidating the neural-immune mechanisms involved in the rapid recovery afforded by centrally administered anti-TNF therapy and using nanotechnology-mediated, targeted gene silencing within the CNS. I am invested in helping my undergraduate and graduate students, medical residents and postdoctoral fellows realize their potential and achieve their goals. Previous students have advanced professionally and hold clinical, academic and industrial positions.

Michael, Malkowski
Malkowski, Michael, PhDProfessor and Chair
Email: mgm22@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-3698

Specialty/Research Focus:
Genomics and proteomics; Protein Function and Structure; Proteins and metalloenzymes

Research Summary:
The Malkowski Laboratory is focused on understanding the structure and function of integral membrane enzymes involved in the conversion of lipid precursors into potent bioactive signaling molecules. We utilize a myriad of methods and techniques to characterize these enzymes, including X-ray crystallography, electron spin resonance spectroscopy, protein chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, and kinetics.

Manoj, Mammen
Mammen, Manoj, MDAssistant Professor
Email: mammen@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 859-2271

Specialty/Research Focus:
Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine; Bioinformatics; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics; Immunology; Protein Function and Structure

Research Summary:
I am engaged in clinical, teaching and research responsibilities related to the evaluation and treatment of patients with pulmonary disease or patients who are critically ill. My inpatient practice is primarily located at the medical intensive care unit (MICU) at the Buffalo General Medical Center (BGMC). The MICU provides ongoing medical care to patients who are critically ill and require significant life support therapies to sustain life or vital bodily functioning. I am specifically interested in asthma, COPD, interstitial lung disease, pleural disease, pulmonary hypertension and lung cancer, but deal with a variety of disease. I evaluate patients with pulmonary disorders including shortness of breath, lung masses, abnormal chest imaging, abnormal pulmonary function tests, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, pleural disease, interstitial lung disease, pulmonary hypertension and lung cancer, at the UBMD practice location at Conventus. As a member of the UBMD pulmonary division I provide inpatient pulmonary consultation at both BGMC and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Currently I am focusing on the analysis of Big Data in medical/healthcare fields. I am particularly focused on the application of drug repurposing in translation and clinic research. Additionally, I am engaged in the study of the human airways microbiome and metagenome. The human microbiome is the the collection of all the microbial organisms in a human body, and the corresponding metagenome is the collection of the genes, and gene products of the microbes. Due the potential impact of the microbiome on human health and disease, I am interested in studying the putative effects the interaction with human hosts, specifically innate immunity interaction with the metagenome in lung disease. My collaborators include the Division of Allergy and Immunology. We endeavor to elucidate immune cell function in airway diseases such as asthma and COPD. Our research focuses on the development of therapeutics aimed at novel targets identified as important in the molecular basis of pulmonary disease; efficacious laboratory results will generate more effective treatment plans for patients. I am actively involved in teaching medical students, residents and fellows about the appropriate care of the patient with pulmonary disease and the critically ill patient.

Mark, Parker
Parker, Mark, PhDAssistant Professor
Email: parker28@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-829-3966

Specialty/Research Focus:
Inherited Metabolic Disorders; Membrane Transport (Ion Transport); Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Protein Function and Structure; Transgenic organisms; Vision science

Research Summary:
Most physiological processes and numerous disease states influence or are influenced by pH. Even relatively small deviations in whole body pH can have devastating consequences for our health. Our bodies are subject to a constant challenge from dietary and metabolic acids, thus it is critical for the body to have mechanisms that tightly regulate pH. Blood plasma pH is maintained at a value close to 7.4, predominantly thanks to the buffering action of 24 mM bicarbonate (HCO3-). HCO3- neutralizes acid, generating carbon dioxide and water (HCO3- + H+ to CO2 + H2O), preventing lethal acidosis. I study the SLC4 family of membrane proteins that move acid/base equivalents across cell membranes. Notable members include [1] the Na/2HCO3 cotransporter NBCe1-A that reclaims HCO3- from filtered blood plasma in kidney tubules (preventing loss of vital plasma HCO3- to the urine), [2] NBCe1-B that promotes fluid removal from the corneal stroma (preventing corneal edema and vision loss), [3] the Cl-HCO3 exchanger AE1 that promotes O2-CO2 exchange in red blood cells, and [4] SLC4A11 that conducts H+ and promotes corneal clarity. Dysfunction of SLC4 family members is associated with renal tubular acidosis, blindness, cancer, deafness, epilepsy, and hypertension.

Alfred, Ponticelli
Ponticelli, Alfred, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: asp@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2473

Specialty/Research Focus:
Gene Expression; Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Protein Function and Structure; Transcription and Translation

Research Summary:
Our laboratory uses genetic, biochemical and molecular biological approaches to study the molecular mechanisms of eukaryotic transcription initiation and regulation. Previous work in our laboratory utilizing both the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and human cells resulted in the identification and biochemical characterization of mutants of nuclear RNA polymerase II (RNAPII) and the general transcription factors TFIIB and TFIIF that coordinately affect transcription start site utilization and transcript elongation. These studies supported a model where yeast and human TFIIF induce global conformational changes in RNAPII that result in structural and functional changes in the polymerase active center. Our current work is aimed toward gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms of kinetoplast transcription by the mitochondrial RNA polymerase of Trypanosoma brucei. T. brucei is a protozoan parasite that is the causative agent of African sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis) in humans and nagana in animals. Procyclic trypanosomes growing in the midgut of the tsetse fly have fully functional mitochondria whereas trypanosomes in the mammalian bloodstream display repressed mitochondrial function. The mitochondrial DNA in trypanosomes is unusual in its structure, comprising a highly catenated network of maxicircles and minicircles termed kinetoplast DNA (kDNA). Our objective is to elucidate the mechanisms and regulation of T. brucei maxicircle and minicircle transcription.

Gabriela, Popescu
Email: popescu@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3807

Specialty/Research Focus:
Neurodegenerative disorders; Ion channel kinetics and structure; Membrane Transport (Ion Transport); Molecular Basis of Disease; Neurobiology; Neuropharmacology; Protein Function and Structure; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
We investigate the activation mechanisms of fast neurotransmitter receptors. We seek to define the activation pathway, modulatory mechanisms and structure-function relationships of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor to better understand the roles played by this protein in the brain. NMDA receptors are the most abundant glutamate-stimulated, Ca2+-conducting ion channels in brain and spinal cord. They are the predominant molecular devices for controlling synaptic development and plasticity and govern memory and learning processes. Understanding the mechanisms that control their activity may lead to more effective strategies to treat neuropathies including stroke, neurodegenerative conditions, chronic pain and addiction as well as mental disorders such as schizophrenia and epilepsy. 

Feng, Qin
Email: qin@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-6030

Specialty/Research Focus:
Ion channel kinetics and structure; Membrane Transport (Ion Transport); Molecular Basis of Disease; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Protein Folding; Protein Function and Structure; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
Work in my lab seeks to elucidate the transduction mechanisms of ion channels involved in thermal sensation and pain, such as the heat-activated vanilloid receptors (TRPV1-4) and the cold-activated TRPM8 – the so-called thermal TRP channels. Expressed in peripheral afferent nerve endings, these channels function as an array of thermometers for sensing ambient temperature from noxious cold to noxious hot. While all proteins are thermally sensitive, thermal TRP channels are gated by temperature and possess unprecedentedly high temperature dependence. But the mechanisms of their temperature gating has remained mysterious, in contrast to our abundant knowledge on other types of ion channel gating (e.g. voltage or ligand-driven). Thermal TRP channels are also distinct for their polymodal responsiveness. TRPV1, for example, is responsive to heat, voltage, pH, capsaicin (i.e. the hot ingredient of chili peppers) among many other irritant compounds. The channels are thus informative for deciphering how biological proteins achieve multitasking. Thermal TRP channels also have receptor-like roles in mediating intracellular signaling. The calcium influx through the channels has potentially a broad spectrum of functional consequences, one of which is the desensitization of the channels themselves, a phenomenon that is believed to underlie peripheral analgesics. Our research is centered on problems like these, and we approach them by a combination of techniques such as recombinant mutagenesis, patch-clamp recording, fluorescence measurements, quantitative modeling, etc, which together allow us to draw insights into functions of the channels at mechanistic levels. Complementing our experimental studies, we are also interested in development of methodology to ever extend experimental resolutions. For example, to time-resolve temperature-dependent activation of thermal TRP channels, we have developed a laser diode-based temperature clamp apparatus, which achieves for the first time a submillisecond resolution (>105 oC/s) while capable of clamping temperature constant. For the past decade we have also been developing sophisticated algorithms for statistical analysis of single-molecule measurements such as single-channel patch-clamp recordings, which can help unravel the richness of data pertaining to molecular mechanisms at high resolutions. Together, these approaches provide us with unique abilities for in-depth studies of structure-mechanisms of ion channels.

Laurie, Read
Email: lread@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3307

Specialty/Research Focus:
Eukaryotic Pathogenesis; Gene Expression; Genomics and proteomics; Infectious Disease; Microbial Pathogenesis; Microbiology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Protein Function and Structure; RNA

Research Summary:
Trypanosoma brucei is a eukaryotic pathogen that causes human African trypanosomiasis, a disease that is invariably fatal if not treated. Essential and novel processes in this parasite may serve as starting platforms for new chemotherapeutics, which are urgently needed. Our laboratory combines biochemical, genetic, genomic and proteomic approaches toward understanding gene regulation and protein modification in this pathogenic eukaryote. One focus in my laboratory is RNA editing, a novel mechanism for regulating mitochondrial gene expression in which sequence information is added to mRNAs after transcription by specific insertion and deletion of uridine residues. RNA editing is essential for creating translatable open reading frames (ORFs). We are performing functional and biochemical characterization of the large, dynamic RNA-protein complex termed MRB1, which coordinates multiple aspects of the RNA editing process. A second focus is on regulating RNA stability and translational control in T. brucei, which constitute the major methods of gene regulation in this organism. We identified an RNA binding protein, DRBD18, that impacts the stabilities of hundreds of mRNAs. Our data support a model in which posttranslational modification of DRBD18 by arginine methylation acts as a switch to change DRBD18 from an mRNA destabilizer to an mRNA stabilizer by regulating specific protein-protein and protein-RNA interactions. We are testing this model in vitro and in vivo using reporter assays, in vivo protein-RNA cross-linking and protein-protein interaction assays. A third focus is on understanding the mechanisms by which protein arginine methylation modulates trypanosome biology.  We performed a global proteomic analysis of the arginine methylome of T. brucei, identifying >1100 methylproteins spanning most cellular compartments and a wide array of functional classes. We are now analyzing novel mechanisms of protein arginine methyltransferase regulation and defining the physiological and molecular functions of arginine methylmarks on selected proteins. I foster a collaborative and flexible laboratory environment, and I encourage my students to explore the research topics that interest them.

Kenneth, Seldeen
Seldeen, Kenneth, PhDResearch Assistant Professor
Email: seldeen@buffalo.edu
Phone: 716-888-4869

Specialty/Research Focus:
Geriatric Medicine; Nutrition; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Protein Folding; Protein Function and Structure; Vitamins and Trace Nutrient

Jennifer, Surtees
Surtees, Jennifer, PhDAssociate Professor
Email: jsurtees@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-6083

Specialty/Research Focus:
DNA Replication, Recombination and Repair; Genome Integrity; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Molecular genetics; Protein Function and Structure

Research Summary:
In my laboratory, we are interested in the general problem of maintaining genome stability. To this end, we focus on two distinct aspects of genome stability: 1) the roles of mismatch (MMR) proteins in multiple pathways for DNA repair and 2) the manner in which regulation of dNTP pools, through the regulation of ribonucleotide reductase (RNR) activity, impacts genome integrity. 1) MMR proteins recognize many different types of DNA lesions and then target the lesion for the appropriate repair pathway. We are interested in the mechanism(s) by which recognition of a lesion is translated into the appropriate DNA repair pathway, using the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model system. Is it through differential protein-nucleic acid or protein-protein interactions? To address these questions as well as the regulation of DNA repair pathway selection, we use a combination of genetic, biochemical and biophysical approaches. 2) RNR activity modulates the level of dNTPs that are available in a cell at a given time. Higher levels of dNTPs lead to higher mutation rates. We are interested in the various ways in which misregulated dNTP pools might affect cellular metabolism and affect the stability of the genome.

Mark, Sutton
Email: mdsutton@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-3581

Specialty/Research Focus:
DNA Replication, Recombination and Repair; Gene Expression; Genome Integrity; Microbiology; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Protein Function and Structure; Signal Transduction

Research Summary:
We are interested in developing an integrated mechanistic view of how organisms coordinate the actions of their DNA replication machinery with those of other cellular factors involved in DNA repair and damage tolerance. Failure to properly coordinate these functions leads to mutations, genome instability, and in extreme cases, cell death. We utilize a combination of biochemical, biophysical, and genetic approaches to investigate the molecular mechanisms of DNA replication, DNA repair, and error-prone DNA damage tolerance functions in Escherichia coli. The primary mechanism for damage tolerance involves direct bypass of damaged bases in the DNA. This process is inherently error-prone, and is the basis for most mutations. Current efforts are focused on understanding the mechanisms by which the actions of high fidelity and error-prone lesion bypass DNA polymerases are coordinated with each other, as well as other proteins involved in DNA metabolism. Our goal in this work is to develop methods that enable us to control the fidelity of DNA repair for therapeutic gain. We are also interested in understanding the mechanisms that contribute to DNA mutagenesis in the opportunistic human pathogen, P. aeruginosa. P. aeruginosa is a particular problem for individuals afflicted with cystic fibrosis. Persistent colonization of cystic fibrosis airways with P. aeruginosa serves as a major source of morbidity and mortality for these patients. The ability of P. aeruginosa to persist in the airways relies in part on its ability to adapt to the continuously changing environment within the diseased airways. We are particularly interested in determining the contribution of mutagenesis and DNA repair to adaptive mutations that contribute to clonal expansion and pathoadaptation of P. aeruginosa during colonization of cystic fibrosis airways.

Noreen, Williams
Email: nw1@buffalo.edu
Phone: (716) 829-2279

Specialty/Research Focus:
Infectious Disease; Microbiology; Microbial Pathogenesis; Molecular and Cellular Biology; Gene Expression; Transcription and Translation; Protein Function and Structure; RNA; Eukaryotic Pathogenesis

Research Summary:
In my laboratory, we use molecular biological and biochemical approaches to study Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness, and Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease in South and Central America. Treatment for these diseases is severely limited due to increasing drug resistance and lack of available drugs. The goal of our work is to discover and exploit critical events that occur in the parasite life cycle that may be used to prevent growth or transmission of the parasite. The major project in my laboratory examines the ribosome, the complex molecular machine that drives protein synthesis. While many features of the ribosome and its assembly pathway are conserved in the parasites we study, we have identified features that are very different from the human host. Our laboratory discovered a pair of trypanosome-specific RNA binding proteins, P34 and P37, that are part of a unique preribosomal complex that is essential for ribosomal biogenesis and survival of trypanosomes. This may suggest that the interaction of these proteins with other components of the ribosomal assembly pathway can be developed as targets for chemotherapy. We are developing a high-throughput screen for small molecules that disrupt the complex in trypanosomes and do not harm the human host. My team and I also collaborate with Dr. Joachim Frank at Columbia University on a project to examine the structure of the ribosome and intermediates in the pathway of assembly using cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). These experiments will provide important information about the unique features of the structure and function of the trypanosome ribosome and further our discovery of potential drug targets. In addition, we continue in a long-standing collaboration with Dr. Beatriz Garat at the Universidad de la Républica in Uruguay, examining both DNA and RNA binding proteins which regulate gene expression in Trypanosoma cruzi. The balance of graduate, undergraduate and medical students and postdoctoral researchers I mentor changes from year to year, though the international quality I strive to maintain has distinguished my laboratory for years: I enjoy having students from around the world as part of my research team. I am the course director for, and lecture in Critical Analysis and Eukaryotic Pathogens. I am also the course director for Eukaryotic Gene Expression and the co-course director for Molecular Parasitology.