Zhi Sheng uncovers molecular mechanism mediating natural cell death

Zhi Sheng, Ph.D.

Zhi Sheng, Ph.D.

Zhi Sheng, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, has published a paper in the journal Apoptosis through a collaboration with colleagues in Korea. The paper describes the discovery of the molecular mechanism that splices RNA and, in turn, controls the self-destruction of cells, otherwise known as apoptosis.

Although the core of our genetic identity is stagnant in DNA, the expression of our genetic code can change over time. One mechanism at the root of such change is RNA splicing. The same string of genetic code can be cut at different points and in different lengths to form different segments of RNA – the middleman between DNA and the molecular machines that build proteins.

The new study determines the mechanisms by which the gene FAS is cut into two isoforms. FAS-L, the long form, promotes cell death, while FAS-S, the short form, discourages it. The finding helps researchers understand how natural cell death is silenced in cancer cells and has implications in cancer therapeutic interventions.