Our Research in a Nutshell
We employ biochemistry, structural biology and cell biology to study the molecular mechanisms of Wnt/beta-catenin signalling and telomere homeostasis, with a particular focus on how poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation (PARylation) controls both processes. Besides understanding fundamental mechanisms of cell function, we aim to uncover novel potential therapeutic avenues in cancer.
We take a multidisciplinary approach to study Wnt/beta-catenin signalling, telomere maintenance and their regulation by poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation. Structural biology is at the centre of our work. (Images modified from Mariotti et al., 2016)
A small number of key signalling pathways collaborate to confer stem-cell properties to cells, and the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway is a prototypic example for such a pathway. Wnt/beta-catenin signalling plays important roles in embryonic development and adult organ homeostasis. It is dysregulated in a number of different cancer types, most prominently in colorectal cancers, the vast majority of which bear mutations in components of the pathway.
At the same time, stem and most cancer cells rely on active telomerase to prevent erosion of their telomeres and maintain their unlimited replicative potential. Recent findings show that Wnt/beta-catenin signalling and telomere homeostasis are closely intertwined at multiple levels and form an integrated self-renewal programme, relevant to normal tissue regeneration, ageing and cancer.
The poly(ADP-ribose)polymerase (PARP) tankyrase both promotes Wnt/beta-catenin signalling and is essential for normal telomere extension in humans, thereby providing an important link between both processes.
Our overarching goal is to understand the precise molecular mechanisms that underlie Wnt/beta-catenin signalling, telomere maintenance and their control by poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation. We have a long-standing interest in deciphering the structural basis and molecular mechanisms of tankyrase function.