Research Department "Structural Cell Biology" (Elena Conti)
RNAs are ubiquitous and abundant macromolecules that generally function as go-betweens to permit translation of the genomic information into proteins. The turnover of RNAs is a highly regulated process that controls the levels of transcripts with vastly different half-lives and functions. RNA degradation is also a key step in the quality control pathways that detect and eliminate defective RNAs. The group of Elena Conti in the Structural Cell Biology Department works to understand how cellular multisubunit complexes mediate the recognition and destruction of RNAs in normal physiology and disease. To decipher the molecular mechanisms, Conti’s group uses a combination of biochemical, biophysical and structural approaches. Recent work on the RNA exosome, the major 3’-5’ RNA degradation machinery in the cell, has elucidated the atomic structure of this 400kDa 10-subunit complex caught in the act of destroying an RNA (shown in the picture). The work has shown how the exosome channels RNA for degradation with a mechanism that is largely conserved in all kingdoms of life and that parallels the mechanism used by the proteasome to degrade polypeptides.