Erik J. Sontheimer

Erik J. Sontheimer

Erik J. Sontheimer, Ph.D., is Professor in the RNA Therapeutics Institute and the Program for Molecular Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. A native of Pittsburgh, he attended the Pennsylvania State University, where he received his B.S. in Molecular and Cell Biology in 1987. He then moved to the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University where he worked with Joan Steitz, completing his Ph.D. in 1992. His work at Yale revealed a dynamic network of RNA-RNA interactions that help to identify and excise non-coding “intron” sequences from eukaryotic messenger RNA precursors. He then did postdoctoral work with Joe Piccirilli in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Chicago, where he was a Fellow of the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund. While at Chicago he provided the first glimpses of the chemical strategies that eukaryotic cells use to catalyze the reactions that remove introns from pre-messenger RNAs. In 1999, Sontheimer joined the faculty in the Department of Molecular Biosciences at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he continued his work on the mechanisms of pre-mRNA splicing. He also turned his attention to small RNA-based gene regulation, and his laboratory made fundamental contributions to the understanding of RNA interference pathways. In 2008 his laboratory also began working on genetic interference mechanisms in pathogenic bacteria. Among other advances, they provided the first demonstration that small RNAs known as CRISPR RNAs target DNA molecules directly, paving the way for the development of RNA-guided genome engineering applications. While at Northwestern, he received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, a New Investigator Award in the Basic Pharmacological Sciences from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a Basil O’Conner Award from the March of Dimes, a Scholar Award from the American Cancer Society, a Distinguished Teaching Award from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and the 2008 Nestle Award from the American Society for Microbiology. In the summer of 2014 he moved to the RNA Therapeutics Institute at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he is continuing his research on the fundamental roles of RNA molecules in gene expression, and on the uses of RNA molecules in biomedical research and the treatment of human disease.

Affiliations and Expertise

Molecular Biosciences, Northwestern University, USA