Joan Curcio


  • Joan Curcio

    BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES

    Retrotransposons are mobile genetic elements that reshape eukaryotic genomes in response to genome damage through RNA. Dr. Curcio’s laboratory studies long-terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons, the evolutionary precursors of infectious retroviruses. Both retroviruses and LTR-retrotransposons have complex replication cycles facilitated by host co-factors. Dr. Curcio explores retroelement RNA-host interactions using Saccharomyces cerevisiae Ty retrotransposons to understand how retroelement RNAs are poised for mobilization in response to genome damage. Current work addresses two major questions: (i) how is retroelement RNA trafficked to the nucleocapsid assembly site and packaged in nucleocapsids, (ii) how are transitions in retrotransposon RNA conformation, function and localization coupled to cell division to ensure retrotransposon mobilization during genome replication. Dr. Curcio is the co-inventor of retrotranscript indicator genes, and has pioneered their application in functional genomics screens to identify host co-factors of retrotransposon RNA trafficking. Interactions between host co-factors and Ty1 RNA are characterized genetically and by molecular analysis of ribonucleoprotein complexes. Biogenesis and trafficking of retrotransposon nucleoprotein complexes are analyzed by 4D live cell imaging. In addition, Dr. Curcio works in collaboration with Dr. Fabris (UAlbany, Chemistry) to elucidate conformational switches in retrotransposon RNA that underlie RNA trafficking and nucleocapsid assembly. The results will inform the development of new approaches to controlling genome instability associated with aging, HIV-1 infection and cancer.