Molecular Cell Biology and Human Genetics

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Human and animal growth as well as regenerative processes, such as the healing of wounds, require active cell communication, in which cells exchange signals and transmit positional information. Using molecular, cell biological and genetic methods, professor Anna Starzinski-Powitz and her team investigate dynamic morphological changes in epithelial cells and how these cells are created. Epithelial cells are fundamental to many tissue types, such as the mammary glands, endometrium, pancreas and skin, but also in the developing embryo. A central aspect of the investigation is the function of epithelial cells in the formation of cell layers and their ability to perform cell migration.

Cell-cell adhesion and the shape of polarised epithelial cells is largely determined by cadherins, a family of adhesion molecules. These membrane proteins control intercellular recognition using signalling processes and are therefore involved in the formation of organs. Cadherins also influence the regulation of cell migration, which means that epithelial cells in which E-cadherin is inactive can leave their environment and migrate to other parts of the organism.

Malfunctions in these regulation processes may contribute to the development of conditions such as cancer or endometriosis, a common condition in women of childbearing age, which causes tissue growth inside and outside the abdominal cavity. Invasive cells are present both in endometriosis and in malignant tumours, with the ability to spread through the organism, in the process they cause deterioration of the condition. A novel membrane protein discovered by the group in the course of their investigation is shrew-1/AJAP1, which regulates the morphological dynamics of epithelial cells, and thus cell invasion and migration. In addition to using well-established tumour cell lines, the team also employs its own unique, immortalized, endometriosis cell lines for their research. Starzinski-Powitz is certain that "our findings will also contribute to a better understanding of the causes and progression of other physiological and pathological processes that rely on cell migration". She communicates her research methods to students in these and other areas, such as epigenetic alteration, in practice-oriented classes.

Brief Biography

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Anna Starzinski-Powitz studied Biology, and received her doctorate in Immunology from the Institute of Medical Microbiology in Mainz. She worked as a postdoctoral researcher in laboratories in Paris, San Francisco and Cologne. In 1983 she established her own research group at the Institute of Genetics in Cologne, and received her Habilitation there in 1989 for her work on the "Analysis of Development Dependent Controlled Genetic Products in Skeletal Muscle Cells". In 1990 she was appointed to a professorship at the Goethe University Frankfurt. In 2004 she founded the Hessen-wide mentoring programme "SciMento" there, to support women in doctoral and early post-doctoral research. At Goethe University she has also assumed various academic administrative roles, such as membership in the University Senate in 2005-09, and subsequently as Dean of the Faculty of Biological Sciences.


Prof. Dr. Anna Starzinski-Powitz
Institute of Cell Biology and Neuroscience
Max-von-Laue-Str. 13 (Biologicum, Flügel A)
60438 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 (0)69 798 42010