Siavash Kurdistani, M.D.

Siavash Kurdistani, M.D. 

Professor and Chair, Biological Chemistry

Bio

Siavash Kurdistani, M.D., studies histones – proteins that act as spools around which DNA is wound in the cell nucleus. He seeks to determine how histones and their biochemical changes, called modifications, regulate cellular metabolism, the process by which nutrients are converted to energy. Through this work, he aims to discover how histones contribute to the development and progression of cancer and other diseases in order to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention strategies.

Historically, research on histone modifications, including past work from Kurdistani's lab, has focused on how they affect DNA-related processes such as switching genes on and off. Kurdistani now examines histone modifications’ broader functions, including how they affect cellular metabolism and physiology (the activities that take place inside of a cell to keep it alive). Kurdistani has found that histone modifications could directly affect cellular physiology, which could in turn cause changes in gene expression. For example, he has demonstrated that histone modifications can regulate cellular acidity, also known as pH, and that changes in pH levels can affect which genes are turned on or off.

Abnormalities in modifications of histones and other proteins that interact with histones are common in human diseases, especially cancer. Therefore, a better understanding of how histone modifications affect cells could enhance the understanding of how these diseases develop and progress, as well as reveal new treatment strategies. Kurdistani became interested in stem cell research because of the biological similarities between cancer cells and embryonic stem cells, specifically their ability to self-renew. He compares histone modifications of cancer cells and embryonic stem cells in order to understand cancer development and progression at a molecular level. He and his collaborators have discovered that measuring histone modifications can predict prognosis or response to treatment in certain groups of patients with cancers of the prostate, kidney, lungs, breasts and pancreas.

Kurdistani discovered a previously unsuspected role for histones in regulation of copper biology. Copper is a metal that is essential for numerous biological processes such as respiration, anti-oxidant defense, and metabolism of nutrients. These biological processes are important for all cells, especially those that divide rapidly such as embryonic stem cells. Kurdistani found that histones generate biousable copper for cellular processes that depend on this metal. This newly discovered function will open a novel field of inquiry on the biology of histones.

Kurdistani earned a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and completed post-doctoral training at UCLA.

Publications

Honors & Affiliations

Honors

  • Kavli Fellow, National Academy of Sciences, 2011

Affiliations

  • UCLA Gene Regulation Graduate Programs in Bioscience Home Area
  • UCLA Cell and Developmental Biology Graduate Programs in Bioscience Home Area 
  • Gene Regulation Program Area, UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • Scientific advisory board, Neuromuscular Disease Foundation

Funding

Kurdistani’s work is supported by the National Institutes of Health and the W.M. Keck Foundation.