Molecular Basis of Asymmetric Cell Divisions
Via Adamello 16, Milano
The connection between deregulated stem cell divisions and tumorigenesis has been one of the most important findings of the last few decades. The notion that tumours could be initiated and maintained by their own stem cells emerged in the 1970s from genetic screens, and was later stregthened by the evidence that deregulated stem cells are a major cause of relapse and resistance to traditional anticancer therapies (Santoro, EMBO Rep. 2016).
In this context, we are interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms governing asymmetric stem cell divisions and fate choice, under normal and pathological conditions. To make a cell division asymmetric, the division plane needs to be tightly coordinated with cellular and polarity. This way, daughter cells are properly positioned within the tissue, inherit unequal sets of fate determinants and follow differential fates. These observations set the stage for our studies, aimed at gaining insight into the functional and organisational principles of the molecular machines orchestrating asymmetric cell divisions. To address this biological problem, we use a combination of high-resolution X-ray crystallography, cryo-Electron Microscopy, biochemical analyses on reconstituted protein complexes and stem cell biology. Our research activity is organised in three main research lines: 1) studies of complexes coordinating oriented epithelial cell divisions; 2) interplay between niche contacts and fate asymmetry, specifically for Wnt-dependent niches; and 3) implications of asymmetric divisions in cancer development, with focus on breast and intestinal cancers.
We believe that gaining detailed molecular knowledge of stem cell niche-signalling and division mode will be instrumental in designing novel targeted therapies and combinatorial regimes for more effective cancer treatments.
Most Relevant Publications
Hexameric NuMA:LGN structures promote multivalent interactions required for planar epithelial divisions.
Nat Comm, 2019
Nat Commun, 2018
Nat Struct Mol Biol, 2016
Curr Biol, 2016