Dmitry Temiakov, PhD, a biochemist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-School of Osteopathic Medicine, has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund research into the molecular mechanisms that control gene expression in mitochondria, the organelles that are the "power plants" of cellular activity. Defects in the normal cycle of genetic transfer in mitochondria are believed to play a role in the onset of conditions that include diabetes, cancer and age-related cognitive decline.
"Studies of the structure and function of the mitochondrial RNA polymerase (mtRNAP) and its initiation factors, as well as molecular mechanisms of transcription initiation, are important for understanding regulation of mitochondrial genome expression and maintenance of the organelle," Temiakov said. "Knowing this could lead to new treatments for the diseases that result from aberrant mitochondria activity."
Located within nearly all eukaryotic cells (cells with a distinct membrane-bound nucleus), mitochondria maintain their own DNA that is separate from that of the cell nucleus. Mitochondria are essential to metabolism, providing for the conversion of fuel (in the form of glucose) into the energy needed to manufacture the proteins and other components that cells need to survive. While scientists know that mitochondria are essential organelles, the mechanisms of expression of mitochondrial DNA are poorly understood, impeding the ability to treat or prevent mitochondrial diseases.
"Our studies will focus on the basal transcription machinery in human mitochondria with the goal of elucidation of molecular mechanisms of transcription initiation, an important step in mitochondrial gene expression," Temiakov explained. "By determining ways to control or change the steps involved in the transcription cycle, we may be able to develop new ways to treat mitochondria-associated diseases."
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey