Ali Shilatifard, Ph.D.



Shilatifard, Ph.D.

Robert Francis Furchgott Professor Biochemistry and Pediatrics; Chairman, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine


The regulation of gene transcription by RNA polymerase II is critical for development and differentiation, and its misregulation contributes to the pathogenesis of many cancers, including leukemia. The overall goal of our laboratory is to define the molecular mechanisms underlying leukemogenesis and to identify potential targets for therapy through detailed studies of proteins and protein complexes that regulate chromatin modifications, transcription initiation, and transcription elongation. For example, some of the homeotic (HOX) proteins are transcriptional regulators essential for normal hematopoiesis, and their misregulation is associated with hematological malignancies. Similarly, the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) protein normally positively regulates multiple HOX genes, and several chromosomal rearrangements and translocations that result in the creation of MLL chimeric proteins cause various forms of leukemia.

Such malignancies presumably arise through changes in the hematopoiesis program, which results from the misregulation of the HOX genes by the MLL fusion proteins. Much of our understanding of the mechanisms—by which MLL, its target genes such as the HOX gene family, and its chimeras function—arises from studies on their close homologs in model organisms, such as yeast and Drosophila. Therefore, our laboratory takes full advantage of the powers of genetic, biochemistry, and cell biology in yeast, mammalian and Drosophila systems to decipher the roles of these factors during development and how their misregulation results in the pathogenesis of hematological malignancies.