Former Trainee

Dr. Rafael Garcia-Mata, a former trainee from Dr. Elizabeth Sztul’s lab
Currently an Associate Professor at University of Toledo, Ohio

Research Interest

The research in our lab is centered in understanding the mechanisms of regulation of Rho family of small GTPases. Rho GTPases control many aspects of cell behavior, such as the organization of the cytoskeleton, cell migration, cell–cell and cell–matrix adhesion, cell cycle progression, gene expression and cell polarity. Our lab is particularly interested in the role of Rho GTPases during cell adhesion, migration and cell invasion in both normal and cancer cells. Deregulation in Rho GTPase signaling has been associated with all stages of cancer progression, including proliferation, invasion and metastasis.

In breast cancer patients, the migration of cancer cells away from the primary tumor and their subsequent metastasis to distant organs is the leading cause of mortality. Cancer cells invade other tissues and enter the bloodstream by forming actin-rich membrane protrusions called invadopodia that degrade the extracellular matrix (ECM). Formation of invadopodia involves a dramatic rearrangement of the actin cytoskeleton, a process that is regulated by the Rho family of GTPases. However, very little is known about the molecular mechanisms controlling Rho GTPases activation, or about the identity of their upstream regulators and downstream effectors during invadopodia formation.