BBS Faculty Member - Michael Blower

Michael Blower

Department of Genetics
Department of Molecular Biology

Massachusetts General Hospital
Simches Research Building, CPZN 6622
185 Cambridge Street
Boston, MA 02114
Tel: 617-643-0777
Fax: 617-726-6893
Lab Members: 5 postdoctoral fellows, 1 graduate student
Visit my lab page here.

We are interested in the spatial control of gene expression and how interactions between RNA and the cytoskeleton influence cytoskeletal assembly. To understand the interactions between RNA and the cytosleleton there are several projects in the lab:

Identification of microtubule-localized RNAs.

We have purified microtubules from a variety of organisms (frogs, human cells, mouse ES cells, and sea urchins) and used both microarrays and Illumina sequencing to identify RNAs that are specifically enriched on microtubules. We have found that ~5% of all RNAs are specifically localized to microtubules, including novel noncoding RNAs, piRNAs, and mRNAs. We are investigating the cis acting sequences that target RNAs to microtubules and the trans-acting proteins that bind these sequences and link RNAs to the transport machinery.

Interactions between piRNAs and the cytoskeleton

Our sequencing efforts found that piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs) are enriched on microtubules in frog eggs and that two piwi proteins specifically interact with the cytoskeleton, suggesting that piRNA processing may be linked to cytoskeletal transport. We are pursuing how piRNAs are localized to microtubules, how the cytoskeleton influences piRNA processing, and germ cell development.

Investigating the structural role of RNA in microtubule assembly

Previous work from our group has shown that RNA is a structural component of the mitotic spindle, acting in a translation independent manner to promote microtubule assembly. We are currently characterizing how and where RNA is required for microtubule assembly as well as using a novel activity based assay to identify which RNAs are required for microtubule assembly.

Nuclease control of embryonic gene expression

Many recent studies have shown that a suite of transcription factors are responsible for mainitaining cells in a puripotent state (i.e. stem cells). Biologically the egg to embryo transition in interesting with respect to the gene expression program because a highly differentiated cell (egg) must quickly reset it’s gene expression program to become pluripotent, yet little is known about this transition. We have identified a nuclease that degrades maternal mRNAs upon fertilization that is likely a key part of the mechanism that allows an egg to dramatically alter it’s gene expression profile.

Last Update: 8/9/2013


For a complete listing of publications click here.



Sharp JA, Plant JJ, Ohsumi TK, Borowsky M, Blower MD. Functional analysis of the microtubule-interacting transcriptome. Mol Biol Cell. 2011 Nov;22(22):4312-23. Epub 2011 Sep 21. PubMed PMID: 21937723;

Robine N, Lau NC, Balla S, Jin Z, Okamura K, Kuramochi-Miyagawa S, Blower MD, Lai EC. A broadly-conserved pathway generates 3’UTR-directed primary piRNAs. Curr Biol. 2009 Dec 16.

Lau, N.C., Ohsumi, T., Borowsky, M., Kingston, R.E., Blower, M.D. Systematic and single cell analysis of
Xenopus Piwi-interacting RNAs and Xiwi. EMBO J. AOP August, 27, 2009.

Blower MD, Feric E, Weis K, Heald R. Genome-wide analysis demonstrates conserved localization of messenger RNAs to mitotic microtubules. J Cell Biol. 2007 Dec 31;179(7):1365-73.

Brown KS, Blower MD, Maresca TJ, Grammer TC, Harland RM, Heald R. Xenopus tropicalis egg extracts provide insight into scaling of the mitotic spindle. J Cell Biol. 2007 Mar 12;176(6):765-70

Blower, M.D., Nachury, M., Heald, R., and Weis, K.. A Rae1 containing ribonucleoprotein complex is required for mitotic spindle assembly. Cell. 2005 Apr 22;121(2):223-34.

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