Welcome Dr. Fujii to the CNG!

Welcome Doctor FujiiOne of the first events for our new Center for NeuroGenetics website was to officially welcome our newest faculty member Kotaro Fujii, Ph.D.

Fujii, an Assistant Professor in UF’s Center for NeuroGenetics (CNG) and the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology was recruited from Stanford University. Dr. Fujii joined our UF team in December of 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing. Despite the difficult circumstances, Kotaro has made remarkable progress setting up his new lab and research group. Dr. Fujii and his team are focused on the ribosome – the core component of the cell responsible for protein synthesis. Dr. Fujii’s research is already supported by a prestigious grant from the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST).

“Professor Fujii is well positioned to open up new areas of research and to uncover key pathways that control the production of proteins and to detect errors in this process that result in disease,” said Dr. Laura Ranum, CNG Director. “We are very pleased to have been successful in recruiting such a talented early-stage faculty member to the Center for NeuroGenetics.”

The target of Dr. Fujii’s research is the ribosome, the organelle that completes the final step in gene expression, producing proteins from messenger RNAs in a process known as mRNA translation. Each cell in the body contains millions of ribosomes and cells devote 60% of their energy to constructing them. Kotaro’s research involves understanding how ribosomes regulate the accuracy of protein synthesis, and how the quantity and quality of protein production is regulated and affects the organism at large. Dr. Fujii is also an expert in specialized ribosomes and their roles in protein translation.

doctor fujii in the lab with a research assistantWe are excited to have Dr. Fujii as part of the CNG team, especially given the potential impact of his research on neurodegenerative disorders.  His work provides mechanistic insights into translational regulation at the ribosome level.  During aging, the ribosome fidelity may be affected resulting in more frequent errors in translation and the accumulation of unused or inaccurate proteins. In the brains of many late onset neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and ALS, this protein accumulation and aggregation is a hallmark feature. Kotaro’s work to monitor the dynamics of ribosomal fidelity during protein synthesis will provide clues to understanding how this process in regulated and how ribosomes lose their accuracy during natural aging and in neurodegenerative diseases.  Correcting or improving ribosomal fidelity within neurons or other cells of the central nervous system may one day allow scientists to reduce the effects of aging and the devastating impact of neurodegenerative diseases.

“Kotaro is using sophisticated approaches to uncover striking layers of translational regulation that have not been previously appreciated,” said Dr. Maurice Swanson, Associate Director of the Center for NeuroGenetics. “His research into the roles of ribosomes in neurodegenerative diseases fits perfectly into the ongoing research and mission of the CNG.”

Dr. Fujii’s interdisciplinary background in tissue-based biochemistry, genetics, and developmental biology makes him uniquely suited to tackle questions focused on mRNA translation fidelity at the organism level. His research lab uses a variety of model systems, including Mouse, cultured cells, and yeast, to probe the mysteries of the ribosome and protein synthesis.

“We use multiple model systems based on the specific questions. We use mouse models to understand the role of mRNA translation regulation in physiological contexts, such as neurodegeneration, and to monitor spatiotemporal regulation during embryonic development and the aging process. Given that mRNA translation is conserved in all organisms, yeast is a great model system to dig into the detailed molecular mechanisms of ribosome regulation,” said Dr. Fujii. “Since yeasts are quick to grow, they are a great system for training new students as well.”

doctor fujii in the lab with a research assistantDr. Fujii has a passion for working with students and a strong history mentoring students. Since joining the CNG, he has already mentored several undergraduate students and has recruited six members to his research group. He has built a welcoming environment to tackle fundamental questions regarding ribosomal and translation regulation in biology, human health and disease.

“I’m very excited about what my lab is going to find,” said Dr. Fujii. “If anyone is interested in joining my laboratory as a postdoc or graduate student, please feel free to contact me.”

Learn more about Dr. Fujii’s research: