Professor at Faculty of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, University of Iceland
Member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)
E-mail: eirikurs (at) hi.is
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, BioMedical Center Sturlugata 8, 102 Reykjavik Iceland
RESEARCH PROFILE - PUBLICATION
(work in progress)
1985, BS, University of Iceland.
1992, PhD, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
1993 -1997, Postdoctoral research at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland.
1997 - present, Professor at the University of Iceland, Faculty of Medicine.
The color of our eyes, skin and hair is determined by special cells called melanocytes. They originate in the neural crest as undifferentiated melanoblasts and migrate to their destination in the skin, eye, hairbulb and other regions of the body. In the hairbulb, the melanoblasts reach a split road. One leads to the matrix of the hair where they end up as pigment-producing melanocytes. The other leads to the bulge-region where they become melanocyte stem cells. As the hair undergoes cycles of hair renewal, the stem cells are ready to replenish the melanocyte population making sure that the new hair is correctly pigmented. When they have reached their final destination, melanocytes produce the pigment melanin which is deposited into cellular organelles called melanosomes. These organelles are delivered to neighboring cells, shielding their DNA from UV-irradiation by forming a protective cap over the nucleus.
The transcription factor MITF has been shown to be essential for all steps in melanocyte development and differentiation, including stem cell maintenance. It has thus been termed the master regulator of melanocytes. MITF has also been shown to be important in melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer, formed from melanocytes. In melanoma, MITF is a key regulator mediating a switch between multiplying tumor cells and dormant migrating cells. How this single transcription factor can mediate multiple events during melanocyte development on one hand and melanomagenesis on the other hand, is a critical question. How this master regulator is controlled and which signalling processes regulate its expression and activity are the major questions that the members of the laboratory are trying to answer.
MITF has a central role in melanoma, melanocyte development and pigmentation. It is crucial, therefore, to fully understand its range of target genes at different stages of development, how it is regulated by signaling pathways and how it mediates its multiple roles in the cell. Characterizing how MITF mediates phenotype switching is a major goal. Our future aims in characterizing and understanding the functions of MITF are threefold:
- Determine the role of MITF at different stages of development using conditional mutations.
- To characterize downstraem targets of MITF and how they mediate effects on gene regulation and the phenotype switching process.
- To analyze how MITF is regulated by signaling. It is known that MITF activity and stability are affected by signaling pathways
We are always looking for new people to join our lab. Feel free to contact us with any further questions.