Zenta Walther MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Pathology; Medical Director, YNHH Tumor Profiling Laboratory
Epithelial polarity and proliferation control; Intestinal epithelial homeostasis; Intestinal barrier function; Innate immune signalling
The plasma membrane of epithelial cells is divided into apical and basolateral domains that are structurally and functionally distinct. This polarity is crucial for the physiologic functions of epithelia. In development and during wound healing, epithelial cells can switch to a non-polarized, migratory phenotype. Disruptions in the control of cell polarity have been found to promote carcinogenesis. We study membrane polarity and proliferation in gastrointestinal epithelia. Specifically, we investigate the roles of scaffolding proteins called MAGUKs (membrane associated guanylate kinases) in 1) the assembly and basolateral targeting of signaling complexes in polarized cells, 2) tumor suppression, and 3) epithelial barrier maintenance in the intestine. Current projects include (a) analysis of MAGUK interactions with kinesin-family molecular motors, (b) characterization of CASK (a MAGUK) knockout mice with respect to intestinal repair and tumorigenesis, and (c) investigation of DLG5 (another MAGUK) function in the intestine and its role in inflammatory bowel disease.