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Dr Sonia Lopez de Quinto  -  PhD

Career Profile

I graduated in 1995 with a BA in Science (Chemistry) from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain), where I also carried out my PhD. In 2002 I joined the EMBL Heidelberg (Germany) for my post-doctoral studies and moved to the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University in December 2007, with support by a RCUK Fellowship in Translational Research in Experimental Medicine.

My long-standing research interests focus on gene expression regulation, with a special emphasis on those mechanisms operating at the mRNA level. Recent findings have highlighted the crucial role that RNA regulation has in tuning the expression of batteries of genes that the cell requires for specific tasks. However, our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms operating at different levels to regulate the expression and fate of mRNAs remains limited.

During my Masters and PhD research (Madrid, Spain), I analysed the mechanism employed by a highly specialized viral RNA region called IRES (Internal Ribosome Entry Site) to recruit the translational machinery to an internal start codon. My work led to the identification of conserved RNA motifs involved in the three-dimensional folding of the IRES and in the establishment of RNA-protein interactions that are essential for translation initiation. This work significantly contributed to the understanding of how gene expression regulation is achieved in RNA viruses.

During my postdoctoral studies at the EMBL (Heidelberg, Germany), I developed a deep interest in the impact that RNA regulation has on the cellular processes ultimately regulating development and disease progression. Specifically, I studied the mechanisms underlying the asymmetric distribution in the oocyte of cell fate determinants, which define the body axes of the future embryo. Over the last years, I characterized in vivo the role of key regulators of oskar mRNA post-transcriptional regulation, such as the cytoskeletal components cooperating in the asymmetrical enrichment of an mRNA in a polarized cell, and the RNA-binding proteins and cis-acting RNA motifs coordinating the transport of an mRNA to its translational control. These results have been crucial to understand the mechanisms operating on asymmetrically enriched mRNAs to control their sub-cellular targeting and local expression.