Natalia Rodriguez-Muela

Natalia's scientific work in one sentence

My group focuses on investigating the molecular mechanisms that govern the selective vulnerability of specific neuronal types in neurodegenerative diseases.

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Short CV

PhD: Neuroscience Summa cum laude, Biological Research Center, Complutense University Madrid, Spain
Current Position: Group Leader at German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)-Dresden
co-affiliated group leader at Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD)
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) fellow

What are - in your opinion - your best publications?

Rodriguez-Muela N*, Parkhitko A, Grass T, Gibbs R, Norabuena E, Perrimon N, Singh R, Rubin LL*. Blocking p62/SQSTM1- dependent SMN degradation ameliorates the Spinal Muscular Atrophy disease phenotype. (*Corresponding authors; J Clin Invest. 2018 Jul 2;128(7):3008-3023; highlighted in “JCI This Month” for July2018 Issue, reference 95231).

Rodriguez-Muela N1*, Litterman NK1, Norabuena EM, Mull JL, Galazo MJ, Sun C, Ng SY, Makhortova NR, White A, Lynes MM, Chung WK, Davidow LS, Macklis JD, Rubin LL*. Single-Cell Analysis of SMN Reveals Its Broader Role in Neuromuscular Disease. Cell Reports. 2017 Feb 7;18(6):1484-1498 (*Corresponding authors, 1equal contribution).

Ng SY1, Soh BS1, Rodriguez-Muela N, Hendrickson DG, Price F, Rinn JL, Rubin LL. Genome-wide RNA-Seq of Human Motor Neurons Implicates Selective ER Stress Activation in Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Cell Stem Cell. 2015 Nov 5;17(5):569-84 (1equal contribution).

What are your most important prizes and memberships?

ERC-Starting Grant. ERC-2018-STG-LS5-802182 (2018)
Juan de la Cierva Reintegration Fellowship, Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness (2017)

PROteostasis Group of European New InvEstigators (PROGENIE), 2019-
SEFAGIA (Spanish Society of Autophagy), 2018-
Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS), 2018-

5 questions about research - past, present, future

1. What are your primary tasks and responsibilities in your actual position?
I started my lab as an independent group leader six months ago, so my current responsibilities range from taking care of administrative tasks (such as preparing safety and ethics documents) to hiring lab members and working at the bench! I’m currently trying to “clone” myself to get the lab up and running as soon and efficiently as possible.

2. What is it that gives you pleasure and/or satisfaction the most?
Science-related, seeing a positive result from an experiment that was technically and conceptually challenging to develop. Non-science-related, reading a good book sitting in the sun (not much of that these days in Dresden unfortunately).

3. Which research question(s) affects you at the moment? What is its social significance?
The main question that has been occupying my mind for the last few years is why each neurodegenerative disease affects specifically one neuronal type, and why within that population there are some neurons that are more vulnerable than others. I believe we still lack efficacious therapeutics for all of those diseases precisely because we still ignore much about the biology of these cells. In my view, better clinical candidates will be discovered if we focus on understanding the particularities of individual neuronal subtypes and/or phases of the disease.

4. Which publication influenced you the most?
I cannot highlight a particular publication. Since I was a young girl I was determined to become a neuroscientist and throughout all the phases in my career countless publications on neuroscience, but also on molecular, cellular biology or stem cell biology, influenced my path somehow.

5. What do you like most about AMPro? What are your particular plans within the collaboration?
What I like the most about AMPro is its interdisciplinarity. It brings together scientists investigating the basis of diabetes, cancer, infectious, cardiovascular or neurodegenerative diseases with a common focus on metabolism and aging. This allows me to learn from, and interact with, not only experts in my own field, but also with other scientists of research areas just slightly overlapping with mine which broadens my scientific horizon. I consider this extremely enriching because first, it makes you look at your own research from different perspectives and it helps you to develop new ideas; and second, it increases the probability that breakthrough discoveries are made faster and more frequent.
Within the AMPro collaboration my group will study the contribution of a potential dysregulation of the main cellular degradative system, autophagy, which functionality declines with age and predisposes to age-related diseases, to the onset and progression of the late onset motor neuron disease ALS.
While I find the research being developed by each of the AMPro groups extremely exciting, there are a few groups I can easily envision establishing close collaborations with in the near future. The labs of Gerd Kempermann and Tomohisa Toda (both at DZNE-Dresden), Bettina Schmid (at DZNE, Munich) or Wolfgang Wurst (at HMGU) among others, are carrying out research that scientifically and/or technologically aligns with ours and it would be fantastic to synergize our efforts with theirs to expand and advance our knowledge on age-linked neurodegenerative diseases.

5 questions beyond research

1. What are your experiences with reconciliation of family or private and working life?
These last six months have not been great in terms of successfully balancing personal and working life J, the working part has taken up the majority of my awake time. What I really try is to make the best out of my private time; be present, leaving the lab-related stuff in a corner of my brain, to enjoy the moment.

2. What is the experience during your PhD you will remember all your life?
I will always remember a conference in Tuscany where I met a person who would become a close friend and scientific collaborator and who has very positively influenced my scientific career.

3. Which book and/or movie has lately affected you the most?
The novel that has affected me the most is “The Time in Between” by María Dueñas, the story of a young dressmaker who leaves Madrid before the Spanish civil war started. A movie that I have recently seen that has probably affected me the most is “The Sea of Trees” by Gus Van Sant, the story of a man who goes through a life-changing journey of self-discovery, love and forgiveness.

4. What are your hobbies?
Hiking in the woods, reading.

5. What is your favorite color, season and/or football (or other sports) club?
Blue, summer. I don’t follow any sport club, but the sport that I enjoy watching the most is tennis, and the one I enjoy practicing the most is swimming.