­­Immune response authority Karen Adelman to deliver Apex Lecture on April 10

Headshot of Karen Adelman.
Karen Adelman, Ph.D.

Karen Adelman, Edward S. Harkness Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, will present an Apex Lecture on April 10 at 2:00 p.m. CT in 1220 MRB III.

Her talk, “Transcriptional Control of Stress and Immune Responses,” is co-sponsored by the Department of Biochemistry.

“Dr. Adelman’s laboratory uses cutting-edge genomic, biochemical and bioinformatic strategies to study regulatory mechanisms that control gene expression,” David Cortez, chair of the Department of Biochemistry, said. “Her recent discoveries of mechanisms that control RNA polymerase are particularly significant and impactful.”

Adelman earned her Ph.D. in 1999 from the Pierre and Marie Curie University(now part of Sorbonne University) by working at the Institut Pasteur under a fellowship from the National Science Foundation. She then joined the laboratory of John Lis at Cornell University for her postdoctoral training. In 2005, she established her own laboratory at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, and was promoted to senior investigator in 2011. In 2016, she joined the Harvard Medical School faculty as a professor in the Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology and is now the Edward S. Harkness Professor in the department. She is currently a member of the Gene Regulation Observatory at the Broad Institute and the Ludwig Cancer Center at Harvard Medical School.

The Adelman lab pioneered genomic studies of RNA polymerase II transcription, revealing that pausing of Pol II in early elongation is a central regulatory step in metazoan gene expression. Ongoing work probes the interplay between transcription, RNA processing, and epigenetic machineries to shed light on the determinants of mature mRNA formation in health and disease. Adelman received an NIEHS early-career award in 2006 and in 2010 earned an NIH Director’s Award for Scientific Achievement. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2023.

About the Apex Lecture Series
There are major inflection points in biomedical discovery that create new fields, new ideas, and new opportunities to impact human health. To engage with global researchers contributing to these inflection points, the Vanderbilt School of Medicine Basic Sciences launched the Apex Lecture Series in 2023. This school-wide seminar series brings scientists who are influencing the trajectory of their fields to engage with our scientific community on campus.

Lecture Abstract
The transition of promoter–proximally paused RNA polymerase II to productive elongation is a central, regulated step in metazoan gene expression. At many genes, paused Pol II is released efficiently into the gene body by the kinase P-TEFb. However, paused Pol II can also be targeted for early termination by the Integrator complex. Importantly, Integrator acts at many stress-responsive genes to attenuate their activity in the absence of stress signaling. Here, I will discuss the mechanistic and physiological consequences of disruptions in Integrator activity, which are implicated in inflammatory disorders, cancer, and neurological disease.