Cytokinesis must be carefully regulated so that the division plane is properly positioned and the chromosomes and organelles are distributed equally to each new daughter cell. Gaining a better understanding of this process is important because cytokinesis failure promotes tumor formation. Despite the biological and clinical significance of cytokinesis, its regulation remains poorly understood. My lab is focused on investigating the molecular mechanisms that regulate cytokinesis. That is, we want to gain a better understanding of how the proteins that direct cytokinesis—signaling, motor, scaffolding, and cytoskeletal proteins—work together to achieve accurate completion of cell division. We are particularly focused on the role that the small GTPase Rho and its GEFs, GAPs, and other regulatory proteins play in orchestrating cytokinesis. In addition, we are interested in studying how misregulation of proteins involved in cytokinesis and/or cytokinesis failure may promote tumor formation.
The approaches we use to address these questions include biochemistry, molecular biology, and cell biology, with an emphasis on live cell imaging. We use embryos from the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis, as a vertebrate model system. Xenopus embryos offer multiple advantages for these studies including external development, rapid and synchronous cell division, large cell size for detailed imaging, and the ability to examine cells in embryos of different developmental stages. Importantly, the key proteins that regulate cytokinesis in Xenopus are highly conserved with those in human cells. Therefore, the insights we gain from this model system will further our understanding of how human cells divide and how misregulation of cytokinesis may contribute to cancer in humans.
Dr. Miller received her Ph.D. from Yale University. She was an American Cancer Society and Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.