Yunsun Nam, PhD

  • Recruited to: The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
  • Recruited from: Harvard Medical School
  • Award: First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member

Dr. Yunsun Nam studied biochemical sciences as an undergraduate at Harvard University, after which she earned a Ph.D. degree in biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Harvard Medical School. As a graduate student in the laboratory of Stephen C. Blacklow, M.D., Ph.D., she studied transcriptional activation by Notch signaling. Dr. Nam showed the molecular basis for cooperative assembly of activated Notch transcription complexes through crystal structures of the multi-protein complex on cognate DNA. Through further biochemistry she identified a novel mode of regulation through higher order complexes of Notch transcription complexes. Her work explains why transcriptional upregulation can depend on the dosage of Notch activation signal. As a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Tom A. Rapoport, Ph.D. at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Nam trained further in crystallography and biochemistry while studying the mechanism of post-translational protein translocation across the membrane via the protein-conducting channel. Dr. Nam then identified non-coding RNAs as her passion as she studied microRNA regulation by Lin28, as a Charles King postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Piotr Sliz at Harvard Medical School. By using a combination of crystallography, NMR spectroscopy, and biochemistry, Dr. Nam determined how Lin28 recognizes its target microRNA, let-7. By monitoring microRNA processing in vitro and in vivo, she also discovered a specific effector role for the zinc-binding motifs in regulating let-7 microRNAs. In 2013, she joined the faculty of UT Southwestern Medical Center and was also named Southwestern Medical Foundation Scholar in Biomedical Research.

Dr. Nam's major interest is non-coding RNAs and their role in gene regulation. Her laboratory is currently focused on elucidating the molecular mechanism of microRNA processing and regulation. Key components of signaling pathways relevant for cancer have been implicated in directly regulating microRNAs during maturation. Her research group will investigate how microRNA processing is activated or inhibited by certain tumor suppressors and oncogenes, and thereby uncover new therapeutic avenues against cancer.