Protein synthesis regulates cell size in human cells

The molecular biotechnologists Clemens Heissenberger and Markus Schosserer together with their team gained new insights into a gene which alters the aging process and certain diseases.

Clemens Heissenberger and Markus Schosserer from the Department of Biotechnology substantially contributed to decipher the function of a so far hardly characterized gene, called NSUN5, in human cells. In their study, they showed that NSUN5 affects global protein synthesis and cell size, via a single methylation of ribosomal RNA. These findings were already presented in a poster and awarded at the Gordon Conference "RNA Editing" in March and are now published in the well renowned scientific journal "Nucleic Acids Research". Embedded in the emerging new research field “Epitranscriptomics”, these insights point towards a possible relationship between ribosomes and diverse pathologies.

Only recently, NSUN5 came into the focus of several research initiatives. The group of Markus Schosserer and Johannes Grillari has already successfully shown before that NSUN5 influences aging in several model organisms (Schosserer et al. 2015). Also, NSUN5 is involved in Williams Beuren Syndrom, a genetical disorder resulting in cognitive deficits, and could further be used as a marker for the prognosis of brain tumours (Schubert 2009; Janin et al. 2019). 

Thanks to the funding of FWF and Herzfelder-Stiftung, Clemens Heissenberger and Markus Schosserer were able to show that NSUN5 is responsible for the addition of a single methyl group to ribosomal RNA in mammalian cells. Ribosomes are big molecular machineries that conduct the synthesis of new proteins and NSUN5 provides an important element to these functional ribosomes. If NSUN5 is missing, this results in the lack of the specifically introduced methyl group and consequently ribosomes synthesize less protein and cells show a reduced division rate.