Faculty Research Page

Britt Glaunsinger

Britt Glaunsinger

Associate Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology*
*and of Plant and Microbial Biology

Lab Homepage: http://glaunsingerlab.berkeley.edu/

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Research Interests

The Glaunsinger lab studies the creative strategies viruses use to manipulate gene expression in host cells.  Our focus is RNA-based regulation of gene expression, particularly at the level of RNA turnover.  We are interested in viral factors that directly target RNA, as well as how viruses interface with and hijack cellular pathways to control gene expression.  We primarily study gammaherpesviruses, including Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus, which is a major cause of AIDS-associated cancers. We anticipate that these studies will enhance our understanding of virus-host interactions, as well as provide insight into how gene expression pathways are normally regulated in human cells.

Current Projects

Viruses and the Art of Gene Expression


cartoon summarizing lab interests

Mechanisms of Virus-Induced mRNA Destruction

The ability to regulate RNA stability has the potential to impact gene expression on a global scale, but is also critical for fine-tuning cellular responses to specific stimuli as well as eliminating flawed and potentially deleterious transcripts. Lytic gammaherpesvirus infection promotes widespread destruction of messenger RNAs (mRNAs), a phenotype driven primarily by the viral endonuclease SOX. By probing how SOX and other functionally related viral proteins drive messenger RNA degradation, we hope to reveal novel interplay between viruses and host gene regulatory pathways, as well as identify cellular factors with capacity to broadly influence message stability.  We are also probing how cells sense and respond to broad changes in RNA levels, such as those induced by viral infection.

Roles for Virus-Induced RNA Turnover in Pathogenesis

mouse sniffing flask of virusesMany viruses are known to restrict host gene expression via a variety of different mechanisms. While proposed to facilitate immune evasion and to aid in the reallocation of cellular resources towards viral replication, in very few cases has the role of this specific phenotype during in vivo infection of a host been directly evaluated. We are using a close relative of KSHV, murine gammaherpesvirus 68 (MHV68), to examine the role of mRNA degradation in the in vivo replication and pathogenesis of gammaherpesviruses.

The Great Escape—How do Select RNAs Evade Degradation?

fishbowl comic
Although the vast majority of messages are degraded during lytic KSHV infection, we know that some transcripts escape degradation and accumulate robustly. Prominent among these is human interleukin 6 (IL-6), a B cell growth factor that has been demonstrated to play a role in the pathogenesis of several KSHV-associated neoplasms. By creating chimeric mRNAs, we have identified a specific element within IL-6 that renders it directly refractory to degradation by SOX. We are in the process of identifying how factors that bind this element directly influence its susceptibility to SOX-induced cleavage.

Identification of Novel Translation Strategies Used by KSHV

diagram of multicistronic translation
Viruses do not encode translation machinery and thus operate under the constraints of host protein synthesis. However, the compact nature of viral genomes has resulted in the evolution of specialized strategies to maximize their coding capacity. The KSHV genome, for example, contains a many fewer poly(A) sites than genes, often with a single signal allocated for several consecutive open reading frames (ORFs). In many cases alternative splicing or gene-specific promoters allow production of nested sets of transcripts, enabling most KSHV ORFs to be positioned as the 5’ gene for normal cap-dependent translation. However, there exist some genes that appear to be translated as downstream genes from polycistronic mRNAs. We are currently exploring noncanonical mechanisms that enable such genes to be efficiently recognized by the host translation machinery.

Systems Biology of the Virus-Host Interaction

Many of the proteins encoded by large DNA viruses like KHSV are of unknown function.  We are applying systems level proteomics approaches to define the complex set of host factors associated with each viral protein.  This should enable both the assignment of specific functions to each viral factor, as well as reveal the composite of host signaling networks and pathways targeted by the virus during infection.  We are currently using these data to probe new mechanisms by which herpesvirues commandeer host gene expression machinery.


Selected Publications

Hutin S, Lee Y, Glaunsinger BA. 2013. An RNA element in human interleukin 6 confers escape from degradation by the gammaherpesviral SOX protein. J Virol. 2013 Apr;87(8):4672-82

Kronstad LM, Brulois K, Jung JU and Glaunsinger B. 2013. Dual Short Upstream Open Reading Frames Control Translation of a Herpesviral Polycistronic mRNA. PLoS Pathogens. Jan;9(1):e1003156 PMC3561293
Kronstad LM, Glaunsinger B. (2012) Diverse virus-host interactions influence RNA-based regulation during γ-herpesvirus infection. Curr Opin Microbiol. Aug;15(4):506-11. PMCID: PMC3424297
Gaglia M M, Covarrubias S, Wong W, Glaunsinger BA.  2012.  A common strategy for host RNA degradation by divergent viruses. Journal of virology. 86(17):9527-30.
Covarrubias S, Gaglia MM, Kumar RG, Wong W, Jackson AO, Glaunsinger BA.  2011.  Coordinated destruction of cellular messages in translation complexes by the gammaherpesvirus host shutoff factor and the mammalian exonuclease Xrn1. PLoS pathogens. 7(10):e1002339.
Richner JM, Clyde K, Pezda AC, Cheng B Y H, Wang T, Kumar RG, Covarrubias S, Coscoy L, Glaunsinger B.  2011.  Global mRNA degradation during lytic gammaherpesvirus infection contributes to establishment of viral latency. PLoS pathogens. 7(7):e1002150.
Kumar RG, Shum L, Glaunsinger BA.  2011.  Importin alpha-mediated nuclear import of cytoplasmic poly(A) binding protein occurs as a direct consequence of cytoplasmic mRNA depletion. Molecular and cellular biology. 31(15):3113-25.

Glaunsinger B and Lee Y. (2010) How Tails Define the Ending: Divergent Roles for Polyadenylation in RNA Stability and Gene Expression. RNA Biology. Jan 6; 7(1)

Covarrubias S, Richner J, Clyde K, Lee Y, and Glaunsinger B.  (2009) Host Shutoff is a Conserved Phenotype of Gammaherpesvirus Infection and is Orchestrated Exclusively from the Cytoplasm. Journal of Virology. Sep;83(18):9554-66

Lee Y and Glaunsinger B. (2009) Aberrant Herpesvirus-Induced Polyadenylation Correlates With Cellular Messenger RNA Destruction. PLoS Biology.  May 5;7(5):e1000107.

Photo credit: Mark Hanson at Mark Joseph Studios.

Last Updated 2013-06-03