Quick-Cleveland, Jena (2013 - 2016)


Jena is in the Department of Biological Chemistry. She joined the training program in 2012. Her research mentor is Dr. Feng Guo.  She received a B.S. degree in 2011 from CSU, Monterey Bay.

Mentor: Dr. Feng Guo

Research project:


miRNAs have emerged as key regulatory elements in development, therefore dysfunction of miRNAs have severe biological consequences. Misregulation of miRNAs has been linked to mental disorders, cancers, and other disease. My project is based on a fundamental biological question: how is the primary transcript of miRNA (pri-miRNA) distinguished from many other RNAs in the nucleus? The protein DiGeorge Critical Region 8 (DGCR8) is responsible for pri-miRNA recognition. My work will characterize the structural mechanism that allows DGCR8 to achieve specific molecular recognition. DGCR8 binds a ferric-heme cofactor and the DGCR8 heme-binding domain (HBD) binds pri-miRNA with specificity. Characterization of the DGCR8-HBD interaction will be achieved using a range biochemical and cellular assays that will determine heme’s functional role in DGCR8. Cryogenic electron-microscopy (cryo-EM) will be employed to solve the structures of DGCR8-pri-miRNA complexes. This study has the potential to unify differing hypotheses in the field and opens the door to improvement of RNAi design technology.