Tabor winner explores

protein kinases and disease

Published December 01 2017

Vincent Tagliabracci won a 2017 Tabor award for his work on protein kinases associated with Raine syndrome and hypophosphatemia, conditions characterized by abnormal biomineralization in babies and children.courtesy of Vincent Tagliabracci Alterations in protein kinases are frequently observed in cancer and other diseases. But the molecular functions of many protein kinases are unknown. This is the challenge that Vincent Tagliabracci, assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, is tackling is his laboratory work. He hopes to combine bioinformatics, biochemistry and structural biology to uncover atypical and uncharacterized protein kinases and to understand how they might provide insights into particular diseases. For this work, he has won a 2017 Journal of Biological Chemistry/Herb Tabor Young Investigator Award.

JBC Associate Editor Alex Toker of Harvard University presented the award at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology conference on protein kinases and protein phosphorylation held Aug. 6–11 at Robinson College in Cambridge, U.K. According to Toker, “Vincent’s work represents an exciting new area of research in atypical protein kinases with direct relevance to human biology and pathophysiology, opening new avenues for drug discovery and potential treatment.”

Tagliabracci’s recent work focuses on how uncharacterized kinases can help us understand the molecular basis of human disease. Most research in this area has focused on a few protein kinases with alterations frequently observed in cancer, metabolic dysfunction and neurodegeneration. However, a large number of protein kinases are poorly characterized at the molecular level. “We try to stay away from mainstream protein kinase research,” Tagliabracci said. “We are discovering quite a bit of exciting and unexplored biology associated with these atypical protein kinase families.” In a recent publication, Tagliabracci and his colleagues defined a family of atypical protein kinases that had an unexpected role in phosphorylation of proteins important in spore biology.

In his laboratory at UT Southwestern, Tagliabracci’s work examines a family of secretory pathway kinases associated with Raine syndrome and hypophosphatemia. Raine syndrome is a neonatal osteosclerotic bone dysplasia characterized by craniofacial abnormalities and death usually in the first week of life. Hypophosphatemia is characterized by an abnormally low level of phosphate in the blood, which can lead to muscle weakness, respiratory failure and heart failure. “What started as just a scientific curiosity (i.e., how are secreted proteins phosphorylated) has ultimately provided a molecular explanation for the abnormal biomineralization in kids with Raine syndrome and hypophosphatemic rickets,” Tagliabracci said.

Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Tagliabracci attended the University of Indianapolis, graduating in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology. His interest in glycogen metabolism took him to Peter Roach’s laboratory at Indiana University School of Medicine for his Ph.D. After completing his Ph.D. in 2010, Tagliabracci pursued his postdoctoral work in the laboratory of Jack Dixon at the University of California, San Diego. He became an assistant professor at UT Southwestern in 2015 and was appointed the Michael L. Rosenberg scholar in medical research. This UT Southwestern program recruits junior faculty to explore curiosity-driven science and provides them with the funding to do so. “UT Southwestern has given me the freedom to take risks,” Tagliabracci said, “which has allowed me to do this type of research that I hope will lead to more unexpected discoveries.”

Adriana Bankston Adriana Bankston is a former bench scientist with a passion for improving training and policies for junior scientists. She is also a member of the board of directors at the nonprofit organization Future of Research.