Gene Regulation, RNA, Epigenetics

How is genetic information stored and used?

Research in gene regulation and gene expression, RNA biology, and epigenetics at the Vienna BioCenter combines diverse approaches ranging from biochemistry and cell biology to genomics and transcriptomics to unravel the connections between genomes and the transcripts they encode. A particular focus is on RNA research, where myriad roles for this nucleic acid have only recently come to light.

Gene expression is at the heart of nearly all cellular processes. Differential gene expression is a prerequisite of multi-cellularity and the main driver of development, while failures in gene regulation cause many diseases including neurological disorders and diabetes. Sophisticated mechanisms exercise tight control over when, where, to what extent, and in what form genes are expressed. This makes the relationship between genotype and phenotype a complex one.

These control mechanisms are being unraveled at the Vienna BioCenter by studying regulation at different levels of gene expression: at the transcriptional level (e.g., transcription factors, regulatory DNA elements, DNA/chromatin modifications, and higher-order chromatin structure), the co-transcriptional level (certain non-coding RNAs), and the post-transcriptional level (e.g., splicing, RNA modifications, and RNA decay). Epigenetic processes alter phenotypes without changing the DNA sequence, and epigenetics research has long been a stronghold at the Vienna BioCenter, with seminal discoveries on DNA and histone methylation, and more recently on small RNA-mediated silencing.

Another strength lies in RNA biology research, with 17 RNA research groups working on messenger RNAs, transfer RNAs, ribosomal RNAs, and non-coding RNAs. The intimate involvement of RNA in gene regulation has become increasingly apparent in recent years. In particular, small RNAs, which include microRNAs, small interfering RNAs, piwi-interacting RNAs, and bacterial small regulatory RNAs, have fueled a renaissance in this field, with the Vienna BioCenter internationally recognized for its contributions.


Studies of small RNA-based defense systems in bacteria and eukaryotes not only provided fundamental insights into the ancient arms race between parasitic genetic elements and their hosts, but also led to powerful tools to silence gene expression or to edit genomes. These tools, including RNA interference- and CRISPR/Cas-based approaches, have revolutionized molecular biology.

The Vienna BioCenter organizes the annual Microsymposium on Small RNAs, which was founded in 2005 and has established itself as the major small RNA symposium in Europe

Research Groups "Gene Regulation, RNA, Epigenetics"

Research Group Institute Topic
Baccarini Max Perutz Labs Deciphering the MAPK pathway in vivo
Belkhadir GMI Plant cell signalling at the interface of growth and defences
Blaas Max Perutz Labs Early interactions of viruses with host cells
Busslinger IMP Stem cell commitment in haematopoiesis
Clausen IMP Molecular mechanisms of protein quality control
Dagdas GMI The role of autophagy in plant development and stress tolerance
Decker Max Perutz Labs Host responses and innate immunity to bacteria
Elling IMBA Functional genomics in embryonic stem cells
Foisner Max Perutz Labs Lamins in nuclear organization and human disease
Fuchs Max Perutz Labs Stress response in simple epithelia
Haubensak IMP Circuit mechanics of emotional behaviour
Knoblich IMBA Brain development and disease
Kovarik Max Perutz Labs Signaling and gene expression in inflammation
Kowalski Max Perutz Labs Molecular and structural biology of picornaviruses
Kuchler Max Perutz Labs Host-Pathogen Interactions & Mechanisms of Drug Resistance & Fungal Pathogenesis
Leonard Max Perutz Labs Structural Biology of Lipid-Activated Signal Transduction
Martens Max Perutz Labs Molecular Mechanisms of Autophagy
Martinez Max Perutz Labs Biochemistry, physiology and disease of the tRNA splicing pathway in mammalian cells
Obenauf IMP Molecular mechanisms of metastasis and drug resistance
Ogris Max Perutz Labs PP2A enzyme biogenesis and monoclonal antibodies
Pavri IMP Molecular mechanisms of antibody diversification
Penninger IMBA Modeling human disease
Skern Max Perutz Labs Interactions between viruses and cells
Swarts Max Perutz Labs Tree-ring genomics
Swarts GMI Tree-ring genomics
Van der Veeken IMP T cell differentiation and function
Versteeg Max Perutz Labs Ubiquitin-mediated regulation of immune signaling
Zuber IMP Finding and probing cancer drug targets using advanced RNAi technologies