Adina Schonbrun, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Essay The Cornerstone of Scientific Success: Unsung Frontline Heroes of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Adina in the fly lab
What is the most interesting paper that you read this week?
Adrian Salic’s lab put out a very nice study on Sonic hedgehog (Shh) (1) binding partners. The study (2) showed that these binding partners essentially shuttle the dually lipidated Shh protein through the extracellular environment by shielding Shh’s lipid attachments, in order to keep the protein soluble.
As part of my current project, I am investigating lipid substrate specificity for Hedgehog acyltransferase (Hhat), the enzyme that acylates Shh. Previous studies have found that Shh binds to its cell surface receptor, Patched, in part via its N-terminal acyl group. Adrian’s study is interesting to me because it presents another protein-protein interaction among the initiating steps of the Shh pathway that is mediated by the acyl attachment on Shh, and therefore presents another facet as to why the acyl chain specificity might be important in activating the Shh pathway.
(1) Sonic hedgehog is a signaling molecule that is important for embryonic development.
(2) Wierzbowski et al., Vol 55:450-467, 2020.
What is your latest experiment?
My lab studies the membrane-bound O-acyltransferase, Hhat. I developed a new assay to monitor the activity of the Hhat, using fluorescence instead of radioactivity. My most recent experiments have been using this assay to determine how Hhat chooses which of the many fatty acids in cells will be attached to Shh and how this affects Shh signaling.
Sonic Hedgehog Pathway The Hedgehog signaling pathway is a cell-cell communication system critical for embryonic development and adult tissue homeostasis.
Shh: Sonic hedgehog (secreted signaling molecule); SHH-N: N-terminal signaling domain of Sonic hedgehog; DISP: Dispatched, sterol- sensing domain protein; PTCH: Patched receptor; SMO: Smoothened, G-protein coupled receptor; GLI: Glioma-associated oncogene homolog transcription factor
Who inspires you as a scientist?
Dr. John Golin, recently retired biology professor and principal investigator at The Catholic University of America, was my first real mentor. He inspired me to believe in myself, and [he worked] to turn the potential he saw in me as an intern in his lab into a career path. Dr. Golin inspired me to grow as a scientist, and I learned from him that believing in yourself is the first step to becoming successful. Dr. Golin continues to be a role model and supportive mentor to me to this day.
What is your favorite model organism and why?
Courtesy of André Karwath
I’ve worked with yeast, bacteria, and Drosophila melanogaster. I like Drosophila the best. In the fly lab in which I spent my post-bac year, my research called for dissecting the flies to study their reproductive systems. By doing so, I was constantly reminded how amazing it is that such a tiny organism, like a human, has reproductive organs, a digestive tract, and a circulatory system, and it can “fit” all of this and maintain all the complexities required of a living being to function.
What do you think is the best way to honor the unsung frontline workers?
The underlying issue I point to in my essay is that we often take other people for granted. I think a good place to start [is]… promoting greater mutual respect and understanding among people with different professions. We all need to remember that everyone is important and can contribute to society in a meaningful way.