Research Fellows Directory
Dr Erika Mancini
University of Oxford
The DNA in every cell of our body is compressed 20,000 times in length into a compact, highly ordered structure called chromatin, enabling it to fit into the tiny cell nucleus. This compression is achieved by protein complexes called histones that spool the DNA around themselves forming nucleosomes, which are carefully stacked into higher order structures. This tight packaging is a barrier to a huge numbers of factors that need to gain access to the DNA during the fundamental processes of life. The chromatin is therefore continuously packed and unpacked, a process known as chromatin remodelling. To remodel the chromatin, cells use specialised protein complexes called chromatin remodelling proteins. These proteins not only need to locate the right piece of DNA that is to be made accessible, but once they find it, they also need to slide the DNA string along the spools and unravel it.
Because of their important role, when components of these complexes are missing or mutated, cells lose the ability to properly control their fates and growth. The aberrant regulation of chromatin structure caused by malfunctioning chromatin remodelling proteins affects the expression of many genes in many tissues and can cause a wide range of diseases. including cancer.
Despite their importance for human health, not much is known about chromatin remodelling proteins. My group at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics (Oxford), in collaboration many researchers around the world, is interested in the fundamental question of how chromatin remodelling proteins work and how their activity regulates and controls genes. I am hoping to use two techniques called X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy, which allow you to look with amazing details at very small objects, to have a closer look at the shape of these chromatin remodelling complexes. I hope to obtain snapshots at atomic level that show how chromatin remodelling complexes perform their very important task within the cell.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)