Mareen Engel

I have studied molecular biology with a focus on biomedicine and neuroscience. I am fascinated by the complexity of the mammalian brain and how such a marvelous organ can be realized during development and adulthood based on the seemingly simple means of gene expression. Essentially, normal brain function requires nothing less than a plethora of cells expressing thousands of proteins at a specific level, which are encoded as genes in the genomic DNA and transcribed and translated to proteins via mRNA. Fine-tuning of this gene expression facilitates and maintains cellular homeostasis but also needs to be altered to adjust brain function to specific needs and to permit long-term adaption.

My research interest focuses on the mechanisms of such gene expression regulation that allow the brain to adapt to diverse environmental challenges both on short- and long-term scale, including:

  • epigenetics: covalent modifications of genomic DNA or its wrapping proteins, the histones, leading to altered rates of primary transcription,
  • non-coding RNAs: e.g., miRNA that can interact and regulate the fate of protein-coding mRNA, and
  • epitranscriptomics: covalent modifications on both protein-coding and non protein-coding RNAs that will regulate their entire cellular lifetime including RNA maturation, location, translation to protein, and decay.

These mechanisms are triggered in a complex symphony upon any kind of brain activity or environmental stimulation and will coordinate the immediate response as well as contribute to the formation of long-term memories shaping the brains activity patterns and behavior for years to come. This includes both adaptation resulting in better coping with the challenge encountered as well as long-term maladaptive processes that contribute to the ontology of psychopathologies like affective (mood) disorders. Over the last years, I focused on uncovering the role of the recently rediscovered mRNA modification m6A, i.e., methylation of adenosines in mRNA, as one of the tools of secondary gene expression regulation employed in the brain in response to environmental challenges and in psychopathologies.

Many experiments have been done in the last years to uncover the details of those regulatory mechanisms providing rich and widely under-analyzed next-generation sequencing data sets. I want to continue studying those data at all levels of regulation helping to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how the brain works and how malapdative processes contribute to the development of psychiatric disorders.

Learn more at Mareen’s Google Scholar Profile

Contact Mareen at: mareen dot engel at-sign ronininstitute /dot/ org