Professional Education

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Harvard University (2013)
  • Bachelor of Science, Tsinghua University (2008)

Stanford Advisors

All Publications

  • Pervasive translational regulation of the cell signalling circuitry underlies mammalian development NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Fujii, K., Shi, Z., Zhulyn, O., Denans, N., Barna, M. 2017; 8


    The degree and dynamics of translational control during mammalian development remain poorly understood. Here we monitored translation of the mammalian genome as cells become specified and organize into tissues in vivo. This identified unexpected and pervasive translational regulation of most of the core signalling circuitry including Shh, Wnt, Hippo, PI3K and MAPK pathways. We further identify and functionally characterize a complex landscape of upstream open reading frames (uORFs) across 5'-untranslated regions (UTRs) of key signalling components. Focusing on the Shh pathway, we demonstrate the importance of uORFs within the major SHH receptor, Ptch1, in control of cell signalling and neuronal differentiation. Finally, we show that the expression of hundreds of mRNAs underlying critical tissue-specific developmental processes is largely regulated at the translation but not transcript levels. Altogether, this work reveals a new layer of translational control to major signalling components and gene regulatory networks that diversifies gene expression spatially across developing tissues.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/ncomms14443

    View details for Web of Science ID 000393859100001

    View details for PubMedID 28195124

  • Translating the Genome in Time and Space: Specialized Ribosomes, RNA Regulons, and RNA-Binding Proteins. Annual review of cell and developmental biology Shi, Z., Barna, M. 2015; 31: 31-54


    A central question in cell and developmental biology is how the information encoded in the genome is differentially interpreted to generate a diverse array of cell types. A growing body of research on posttranscriptional gene regulation is revealing that both global protein synthesis rates and the translation of specific mRNAs are highly specialized in different cell types. How this exquisite translational regulation is achieved is the focus of this review. Two levels of regulation are discussed: the translation machinery and cis-acting elements within mRNAs. Recent evidence shows that the ribosome itself directs how the genome is translated in time and space and reveals surprising functional specificity in individual components of the core translation machinery. We are also just beginning to appreciate the rich regulatory information embedded in the untranslated regions of mRNAs, which direct the selective translation of transcripts. These hidden RNA regulons may interface with a myriad of RNA-binding proteins and specialized translation machinery to provide an additional layer of regulation to how transcripts are spatiotemporally expressed. Understanding this largely unexplored world of translational codes hardwired in the core translation machinery is an exciting new research frontier fundamental to our understanding of gene regulation, organismal development, and evolution. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology Volume 31 is November 7, 2015. Please see for revised estimates.

    View details for DOI 10.1146/annurev-cellbio-100814-125346

    View details for PubMedID 26443190

  • Differential Requirements for eIF4E Dose in Normal Development and Cancer CELL Truitt, M. L., Conn, C. S., Shi, Z., Pang, X., Tokuyasu, T., Coady, A. M., Seo, Y., Barna, M., Ruggero, D. 2015; 162 (1): 59-71


    eIF4E, the major cap-binding protein, has long been considered limiting for translating the mammalian genome. However, the eIF4E dose requirement at an organismal level remains unexplored. By generating an Eif4e haploinsufficient mouse, we found that a 50% reduction in eIF4E expression, while compatible with normal development and global protein synthesis, significantly impeded cellular transformation. Genome-wide translational profiling uncovered a translational program induced by oncogenic transformation and revealed a critical role for the dose of eIF4E, specifically in translating a network of mRNAs enriched for a unique 5' UTR signature. In particular, we demonstrate that the dose of eIF4E is essential for translating mRNAs that regulate reactive oxygen species, fueling transformation and cancer cell survival in vivo. Our findings indicate eIF4E is maintained at levels in excess for normal development that are hijacked by cancer cells to drive a translational program supporting tumorigenesis.

    View details for DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2015.05.049

    View details for Web of Science ID 000357542300009

    View details for PubMedID 26095252

  • Multiple small RNA pathways regulate the silencing of repeated and foreign genes in C. elegans GENES & DEVELOPMENT Fischer, S. E., Pan, Q., Breen, P. C., Qi, Y., Shi, Z., Zhang, C., Ruvkun, G. 2013; 27 (24): 2678-2695


    Gene segments from other organisms, such as viruses, are detected as foreign and targeted for silencing by RNAi pathways. A deep-sequencing map of the small RNA response to repeated transgenes introduced to Caenorhabditis elegans revealed that specific segments are targeted by siRNAs. Silencing of the foreign gene segments depends on an antiviral response that involves changes in active and silent chromatin modifications and altered levels of antisense siRNAs. Distinct Argonaute proteins target foreign genes for silencing or protection against silencing. We used a repeated transgene in a genome-wide screen to identify gene disruptions that enhance silencing of foreign genetic elements and identified 69 genes. These genes cluster in four groups based on overlapping sets of coexpressed genes, including a group of germline-expressed genes that are likely coregulated by the E2F transcription factor. Many of the gene inactivations enhance exogenous RNAi. About half of the 69 genes have roles in endogenous RNAi pathways that regulate diverse processes, including silencing of duplicated genes and transposons and chromosome segregation. Of these newly identified genes, several are required for siRNA biogenesis or stability in the oocyte-specific ERGO-1 pathway, including eri-12, encoding an interactor of the RNAi-defective protein RDE-10, and ntl-9/CNOT9, one of several CCR4/NOT complex genes that we identified. The conserved ARF-like small GTPase ARL-8 is required specifically for primary siRNA biogenesis or stability in the sperm-specific ALG-3/4 endogenous RNAi pathway.

    View details for DOI 10.1101/gad.233254.113

    View details for Web of Science ID 000328892800006

    View details for PubMedID 24352423

  • SRSF1 and SRSF9 RNA binding proteins promote Wnt signalling-mediated tumorigenesis by enhancing -catenin biosynthesis EMBO MOLECULAR MEDICINE Fu, Y., Huang, B., Shi, Z., Han, J., Wang, Y., Huangfu, J., Wu, W. 2013; 5 (5): 737-750


    Wnt/β-catenin signalling is widely implicated in embryogenesis, tissue homeostasis and tumorigenesis. The key event in Wnt signalling activation is β-catenin accumulation, which is controlled by both its production and degradation. However, much more emphasis has been placed on the understanding of its degradation. Here, we show that the synthesis of β-catenin protein, which requires a group of serine/arginine-rich splicing factors (SRSF), also contributes to its tumorigenic activity. Overexpression of SRSF1 and SRSF9 promote β-catenin accumulation via the recruitment of β-catenin mRNA and by enhancing its translation in an mTOR-dependent manner. We further demonstrate that, like SRSF1, SRSF9 is also an oncogene, and is frequently overexpressed in multiple types of human tumours. Finally, our results suggest that promoting degradation and blocking production of β-catenin synergistically reduce β-catenin levels under pathological conditions and that a combinational therapy could be a promising approach for the treatment of cancer patients.

    View details for DOI 10.1002/emmm.201202218

    View details for Web of Science ID 000318565900008

    View details for PubMedID 23592547

  • High-throughput sequencing reveals extraordinary fluidity of miRNA, piRNA, and siRNA pathways in nematodes GENOME RESEARCH Shi, Z., Montgomery, T. A., Qi, Y., Ruvkun, G. 2013; 23 (3): 497-508


    The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans contains each of the broad classes of eukaryotic small RNAs, including microRNAs (miRNAs), endogenous small-interfering RNAs (endo-siRNAs), and piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs). To better understand the evolution of these regulatory RNAs, we deep-sequenced small RNAs from C. elegans and three closely related nematodes: C. briggsae, C. remanei, and C. brenneri. The results reveal a fluid landscape of small RNA pathways with essentially no conservation of individual sequences aside from a subset of miRNAs. We identified 54 miRNA families that are conserved in each of the four species, as well as numerous miRNAs that are species-specific or shared between only two or three species. Despite a lack of conservation of individual piRNAs and siRNAs, many of the features of each pathway are conserved between the different species. We show that the genomic distribution of 26G siRNAs and the tendency for piRNAs to cluster is conserved between C. briggsae and C. elegans. We also show that, in each species, 26G siRNAs trigger stage-specific secondary siRNA formation. piRNAs in each species also trigger secondary siRNA formation from targets containing up to three mismatches. Finally, we show that the production of male- and female-specific piRNAs is conserved in all four species, suggesting distinct roles for piRNAs in male and female germlines.

    View details for DOI 10.1101/gr.149112.112

    View details for Web of Science ID 000315806800009

    View details for PubMedID 23363624

  • Dual Regulation of the lin-14 Target mRNA by the lin-4 miRNA. PloS one Shi, Z., Hayes, G., Ruvkun, G. 2013; 8 (9)


    microRNAs (miRNAs) are ∼22 nt regulatory RNAs that in animals typically bind with partial complementarity to sequences in the 3' untranslated (UTR) regions of target mRNAs, to induce a decrease in the production of the encoded protein. The relative contributions of translational inhibition of intact mRNAs and degradation of mRNAs caused by binding of the miRNA vary; for many genetically validated miRNA targets, translational repression has been implicated, whereas some analyses of other miRNA targets have revealed only modest translational repression and more significant mRNA destabilization. In Caenorhabditis elegans, the lin-4 miRNA accumulates during early larval development, binds to target elements in the lin-14 mRNA, and causes a sharp decrease in the abundance of LIN-14 protein. Here, we monitor the dynamics of lin-14 mRNA and protein as well as lin-4 miRNA levels in finely staged animals during early larval development. We find complex regulation of lin-14, with the abundance of lin-14 mRNA initially modestly declining followed by fluctuation but little further decline of lin-14 mRNA levels accompanied by continuing and more dramatic decline in LIN-14 protein abundance. We show that the translational inhibition of lin-14 is dependent on binding of the lin-4 miRNA to multiple lin-4 complementary sites in the lin-14 3'UTR. Our results point to the importance of translational inhibition in silencing of lin-14 by the lin-4 miRNA.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0075475

    View details for PubMedID 24058689

  • The mevalonate pathway regulates microRNA activity in Caenorhabditis elegans PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Shi, Z., Ruvkun, G. 2012; 109 (12): 4568-4573


    The mevalonate pathway is highly conserved and mediates the production of isoprenoids, which feed into biosynthetic pathways for sterols, dolichol, ubiquinone, heme, isopentenyl adenine, and prenylated proteins. We found that in Caenorhabditis elegans, the nonsterol biosynthetic outputs of the mevalonate pathway are required for the activity of microRNAs (miRNAs) in silencing their target mRNAs. Inactivation of genes that mediate multiple steps of the mevalonate pathway causes derepression of several miRNA target genes, with no disruption of the miRNA levels, suggesting a role in miRNA-induced silencing complex activity. Dolichol phosphate, synthesized from the mevalonate pathway, functions as a lipid carrier of the oligosaccharide moiety destined for protein N-linked glycosylation. Inhibition of the dolichol pathway of protein N-glycosylation also causes derepression of miRNA target mRNAs. The proteins that mediate miRNA repression are therefore likely to be regulated by N-glycosylation. Conversely, drugs such as statins, which inhibit the mevalonate pathway, may compromise miRNA repression as well as the more commonly considered cholesterol biosynthesis.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1202421109

    View details for Web of Science ID 000301712600047

    View details for PubMedID 22396595

  • Repression of Germline RNAi Pathways in Somatic Cells by Retinoblastoma Pathway Chromatin Complexes PLOS GENETICS Wu, X., Shi, Z., Cui, M., Han, M., Ruvkun, G. 2012; 8 (3)


    The retinoblastoma (Rb) tumor suppressor acts with a number of chromatin cofactors in a wide range of species to suppress cell proliferation. The Caenorhabditis elegans retinoblastoma gene and many of these cofactors, called synMuv B genes, were identified in genetic screens for cell lineage defects caused by growth factor misexpression. Mutations in many synMuv B genes, including lin-35/Rb, also cause somatic misexpression of the germline RNA processing P granules and enhanced RNAi. We show here that multiple small RNA components, including a set of germline-specific Argonaute genes, are misexpressed in the soma of many synMuv B mutant animals, revealing one node for enhanced RNAi. Distinct classes of synMuv B mutants differ in the subcellular architecture of their misexpressed P granules, their profile of misexpressed small RNA and P granule genes, as well as their enhancement of RNAi and the related silencing of transgenes. These differences define three classes of synMuv B genes, representing three chromatin complexes: a LIN-35/Rb-containing DRM core complex, a SUMO-recruited Mec complex, and a synMuv B heterochromatin complex, suggesting that intersecting chromatin pathways regulate the repression of small RNA and P granule genes in the soma and the potency of RNAi. Consistent with this, the DRM complex and the synMuv B heterochromatin complex were genetically additive and displayed distinct antagonistic interactions with the MES-4 histone methyltransferase and the MRG-1 chromodomain protein, two germline chromatin regulators required for the synMuv phenotype and the somatic misexpression of P granule components. Thus intersecting synMuv B chromatin pathways conspire with synMuv B suppressor chromatin factors to regulate the expression of small RNA pathway genes, which enables heightened RNAi response. Regulation of small RNA pathway genes by human retinoblastoma may also underlie its role as a tumor suppressor gene.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002542

    View details for Web of Science ID 000302254800019

    View details for PubMedID 22412383