Rosa Puertollano-Moro, Ph.D., knew as a young girl that she wanted to be a scientist. But little did she know that one day she would be doing innovative research in the relatively obscure, but important, world of lysosomes—organelles dubbed the “cleaning crew” of the body’s cells.
A molecular biologist, Puertollano-Moro is a senior investigator in the protein trafficking and organelle biology laboratory of NHLBI’s Division of Intramural Research. Her lab has been uncovering why lysosomes are so efficient at one of the cell’s most crucial “household chores”: disposing waste and recycling molecules. Puertollano-Moro said the question has big implications because when lysosomes are unable to break down substances like proteins and lipids, it can create toxic buildup. And that can lead to scores of rare lysosomal conditions such as Tay-Sachs disease, Niemann-Pick disease, Gaucher disease and Pome disease, among many others.
“Our recent work found that cells strategically place lysosomes in particular regions of the cell,” Puertollano-Moro said. Specifically, her team identified a protein that works much like a conveyor belt, transporting the lysosomes from the outer edges of the cell toward the nucleus, the coordination hub for many of its activities. “Accumulating lysosomes close to the nucleus ensures that the cell’s waste material will be eliminated efficiently,” she explained.
The significance of her finding, which earned her a 2019 Orloff award, extends beyond basic cell physiology. She has identified several proteins that could pave a way to better therapies to treat lysosomal diseases. “I’m optimistic that there are still many exciting and unexpected discoveries about lysosomes to be made,” she said.
Learn more about Rosa Puertollano