PI Name: Rajini Rao
Number of Years in BCMB: 18
Model System(s): Initially yeast, more recently mammalian cell culture using whatever tissues are relevant, mice
Research Area: The regulation and induction of ion transport and the physiological roles of various ion transporters
Brandie Cross- BCMB student
Annie Hack- CMM student
Kalyan Kondapalli- postdoctoral fellow
Jose P. Llongueras- post bac student
Cassie Patenaude- BCMB student
Hari Prasad- CMM student
Interview with Rajini Rao:
BCMBNews (BN): How do you like the Department of Physiology?
Rajini Rao (RR): I actually didn’t do a lot of physiology when I first came, but I find that we do now with looking at neurological disorders or hypertension. So I think we’re really influenced by our environment. When I came here, you know… physiology sounded very vague to me because I was more interested in the nitty gritty of little molecules, looking at them as molecular machines. But now I think I have more of an appreciation for what happens at the level of the organism if such a protein is not functioning properly.
BN: How would you describe the work environment in your lab?
RR: I really give them a free rein; let them figure [things] out. I have an open door policy, and since I’m rarely in the lab I encourage them to come talk to me and then I help them troubleshoot and so on. A lot of the results in the lab come from serendipity. There’s a broad direction for the lab, but I think within that broad definition students can take it where they want to go… play to their individual strengths.
BN: What do you all do for fun?
RR: We have a soccer ball in the lab, so often we go down to the courtyard every once in a while and shoot. I’ve had cooking classes in my home on Sundays, and I should really do it more often.
BN: What results have you had that have excited you recently?
RR: So we’re working on this new Na+/H+ exchanger of a different subtype. We got it working in yeast very easily, but for some reason we could simply never get it to function in mammalian cells. It’s a human gene, so that’s odd because if it can function in yeast then that means it has everything it needs. And we weren’t the only ones- there were a bunch of other labs that were trying to get some function out of this, because it’s expressed very ubiquitously in our tissues. So we started to think: when we put it in yeast they become very salt tolerant… in high salt media, because it’s a transporter it can throw the sodium out- that’s how [yeast] continues to grow. So we took mammalian cells that were transfected with this gene and asked if they were salt tolerant. Sure enough, the mammalian cells also got very salt resistant. And it made us realize that it was actually working like a pump, whereas an exchanger should simply equilibrate the ion on both sides. And those got us thinking to what it was doing in yeast, [which was harnessing] a proton gradient. And when we looked in mammalian cells, even though in mammalian cells active transport is thought to be coupled to a sodium gradient, it turned out that there are proton gradients at the plasma membrane of mammalian cells too. We’re actually showing that it’s coupled to the vacuolar ATPase at the plasma membrane of kidney epithelium. So here is an example of results from the yeast model directing informing our studies in mammalian cells.
BN: Where do you see your research going in the next 5 years?
RR: I think we’d like to get more into mouse models. We’d like to [make transgenics]… to do more behavioral studies depending on the types of genes we look at and the types of diseases they’re implicated in.
BN: Anything for the BCMB community?
RR: I think it’s been a very long lasting relationship with BCMB. I’ve always felt that BCMB is a home for me.