Skip to main content
4DN Investigator Spotlight: Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla
Dr. Torres-Padilla

Are the First Steps in Development the Key to Treating Disease?

From the moment an embryo is fertilized, cellular processes begin to cause cells to take on specific identities and functions. During these early stages, the way that DNA is organized inside the nucleus of each cell starts to change as well, which contributes to how cells determine their final identity. Some of the first steps of development involve regions of DNA called lamina-associated domains (LADs) coming close to the wall of the nucleus, which is also called the lamina. 4D Nucleome (4DN) researcher Maria-Elena Torres-Padilla is studying whether the organization of these LADs create the architectural scaffolds that help shape DNA organization inside each cell as the embryo develops. As part of her 4DN-funded research, she is establishing a new way to visualize real-time changes in DNA organization and the structure of LADs in mouse embryos, which has never been done before. Being able to watch these processes in real-time will allow researchers to better understand how embryo development is controlled and how issues in DNA organization at early stages of development could prevent proper embryo formation and cause issues during pregnancy.

Dr. Torres-Padilla is also studying dozens of proteins found in the nucleus to understand how they affect DNA organization in embryos. By understanding the functions of these proteins in developing embryos, says Dr. Torres-Padilla, researchers can also get information on how they affect other diseases that relate to defects in the lamina. Understanding the roles of many different proteins in the nucleus could help find new ways to treat diseases involving DNA organization: if an issue with one protein causes DNA to be arranged incorrectly, another protein involved in DNA organization could be targeted to compensate and restore the nucleus to a healthy state.

Dr. Torres-Padilla’s lab has always been interested in DNA organization in the nucleus during development: “the nucleus is central to many exciting things that the cells know how to do,” says Dr. Torres-Padilla. Being part of the 4DN network has allowed her to expand her work through interactions with other colleagues in the USA and across the globe. 4DN has brought benefits to her lab members as well, exposing them to many different types of scientists and different areas of research involving the nucleus. Dr. Torres-Padilla believes it is important to get ideas from many different ways of thinking when doing science. She fosters an environment in her lab of tolerance and of embracing differences and advises trainees pursuing research and a scientific career to “work hard, regardless of who you are and where you come from.”

Learn more about Dr. Torres-Padilla’s research here.

This page last reviewed on August 17, 2023