NIH grant will help biomedical scientist study mechanism involved in neurogenesis

Author: Iqbal Pittalwala
January 10, 2022

Sika Zheng, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine, recently received a five-year National Institutes of Health grant of nearly $2.5 million to study the functional role of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, or NMD, in the complicated and dynamic process of neurogenesis, a term used to describe the generation of neurons in the brain during embryonic development. 

Sika Zheng
Sika Zheng.

NMD is an evolutionarily conserved molecular mechanism in which potentially defective messenger RNAs, or mRNAs, are degraded. 

Zheng explained that NMD also modulates the stability of selective mRNAs to finetune gene expression and that mutations in key NMD factors are enriched in various neurodevelopmental diseases. But whether — and how — NMD influences brain development remains elusive. 

“This project will combine cutting-edge molecular cellular ribogenomics approaches, mouse genetics, and developmental neurobiology to understand the mechanisms of NMD regulating cortical neural progenitor cells,” Zheng said.

Neural progenitor cells, which can divide a limited number of times, give rise to many of the glial and neuronal cell types that populate the central nervous system. Ribogenomics is the study of the biology of cellular RNAs, including their origin, structure, and function.