Our laboratory studies how enhancers, which are short regions of DNA that can be bound with proteins, activate a process called transcription—the transfer of genetic information from DNA to RNA. We study how transcription is activated during development when less specialized cells become more specialized cell types. More specifically, we focus on the role played by chromatin structure in this process. Chromatin structure is the combination of DNA and proteins in the cell nucleus. The goal of these studies is to understand the complex interplay between nuclear genes and their modulators.
We conduct studies that focus on the family of human β-globin genes that code for the components of the blood protein, hemoglobin. Different hemoglobins are synthesized in mammalian embryos and adults, but all of them depend on an enhancer (called the locus control region, or LCR) to activate their transcription. We are trying to understand the role of specific proteins required for the start of transcription of the β-globin genes. In other studies, we look at the extent to which the physical proximity (chromosome looping) between the β-globin LCR and genes plays a role in transcription activation.