In our lab, we are interested in primary cilia, microtubule-based cell membrane protrusions that our cells use to detect optical, mechanical or chemical signals from their environment. Primary cilia thus function as cellular antennae. They are essential for both embryonic development and adult life. They connect us to the outside world (we see, hear and smell through cilia), and they keep the cells inside our bodies connected with each other.
Different cell types contain cilia that specialize in sensing different signals. For instance, retinal photoreceptor neurons (rods and cones) contain cilia that specialize in capturing light. Cilia in kidney, blood vessels, inner ear, and embryonic node specialize in monitoring fluid flow. And many other cilia, such as those in the olfactory epithelium, hypothalamic neurons, fat cell precursors, or limb bud mesenchyme, function as chemosensors, detecting a wide variety of signaling molecules ranging from odorants to hormones, neuromodulators, fatty acids or embryonic morphogens.
Congenital defects in ciliary genes cause human diseases known as ciliopathies, the most common of which are polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Many other ciliopathies are rare syndromes, like Joubert (JS) or Bardet-Biedl (BBS) syndromes. Common ciliopathy manifestations include brain, skeletal and heart malformations, cognitive and motor deficits, blindness, kidney cysts, and obesity. Furthermore, primary cilia play important roles in major ailments such as cancer, diabetes or neurodegeneration.
To function as cellular antennae, primary cilia must first accumulate all the appropriate signal receptors and transducers. In other words, these antennae must be properly tuned to their cognate signals. Our goal at the Garcia-Gonzalo lab is to understand the molecular mechanisms of this tuning process.
The lab was founded in 2016 shortly after Dr. Francesc R. Garcia-Gonzalo returned from his decade-long postdoctoral sojourn in the USA (2005-2015), where he worked in top biomedical research institutions such as the University of California, San Diego (UCSD, 2005-2006), The Salk Institute for Biological Studies (2006-2008), and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF, 2008-2015). It was at UCSF that Francesc became a ciliary biologist, under the masterful guidance of one of the great experts in the field, Dr. Jeremy Reiter.
Our laboratory is part of the Biochemistry Department of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) and is physically located at the UAM School of Medicine (Module C, Lab C-11). We are also associated with two neighboring research institutes: the Alberto Sols Biomedical Research Institute CSIC-UAM (IIBM), and the La Paz University Hospital Research Institute (IdiPAZ). Through IIBM, we also belong to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), whereas IdiPAZ directly connects us to the clinicians at nearby La Paz Hospital, one of Madrid's largest.
We are located in one of Madrid and Spain's most important biomedical research hubs (see image below), within a ten minute walk of the Spanish National Cancer Center (CNIO), the Spanish National Cardiovascular Center (CNIC) and the Ramon y Cajal Hospital, also one of Madrid's biggest. We are also a five minute walk away from Madrid's tallest skyscrapers (Cuatro Torres) and a short subway ride from downtown Madrid.