Shuo Gu, Ph.D.

Shuo  Gu, Ph.D.
Stadtman Investigator
Head, RNA Mediated Gene Regulation Section

Dr. Gu’s research focuses on the mechanisms of RNA interference and microRNA pathways, and their applications in cancer treatment. MiRNAs play essential roles in gene regulation networks, human diseases and cancer. Research in the Gu lab aims to unveil the mechanisms of miRNA biogenesis, post-transcriptional modifications, and biological functions in mammalian systems. This information will then be used to test novel RNA-based approaches designed to alter gene expression with improved safety, off-targeting, and potency profiles, which can then be used as tools for biological discovery and therapeutics.

Areas of Expertise

1) RNAi, 2) miRNA, 3) non-coding RNA, 4) gene therapy, 5) RNA biology

Contact Info

Shuo Gu, Ph.D.
Center for Cancer Research
National Cancer Institute
Building 560, Room 11-6B
Frederick, MD 21702
Ph: 301-846-5447

miRNA function is largely determined by its sequence and abundance. miRNA sequences are determined during processing and post-maturation modification. miRNA isoforms (isomiRs) are highly prevalent as a result of sequence modifications. Although isomiR levels often associate with tumorigenesis, their biogenesis and function remain poorly understood. A specific focus of our program is on elucidating mechanisms governing the biogenesis and function of isomiRs by combining genetic studies in living cells with biochemical and next generation sequencing (NGS) approaches.

Biogenesis and function of 5’ isomiRs. To determine the sequence and structural features of primary miRNAs (pri-miRNAs) that influence alternative cleavage, we systematically studied the processing of a set of pri-miRNAs. Our analyses, which included deep sequencing, biochemical assays, in cell functional studies and small angle X-ray scattering (SAXS)-based structural studies, revealed that certain structural features of pri-miRNA promote Drosha cleavages at alternative sites. The resulting 5’ isomiRs regulate a distinct set of target mRNAs. 

Recently, we found that Drosha cleavage fidelity varies between cell lines and decreases in multiple cancers, resulting in numerous miRNAs with altered 5’ ends and seed sequences. This led us to hypothesize that Drosha processing is altered during tumorigenesis to produce 5’ isomiRs that impact tumor progression. Our analyses indicate that several Drosha mutations are associated with elevated levels of 5’ isomiRs. We are investigating how other cellular factors promote or inhibit 5’ isomiR production by modulating pri-miRNA structure. In parallel, we try to identify 5’ isomiRs regulating cell proliferation. These studies should identify novel, potentially oncogenic 5’ isomiRs and uncover mechanisms that regulate their biogenesis. 

Biogenesis and function of 3’ isomiRs. Terminal nucleotidyl transferases (TENTs) generate 3’ isomiRs by posttranscriptional 3’ uridylation and/or adenylation. These modifications are miRNA-specific and subject to temporal or spatial regulation in development and diseases including cancer. While it is well-established that uridylation of miRNA precursors has a profound impact on miRNA biogenesis, little is known as to how tailing of mature miRNAs affects their function and decay in mammals. We recently discovered that uridylation can alter the way by which miRNA recognizes its targets. This Tail-U-mediated repression (TUMR) involves extensive 3’-region and tail pairing (rather than seed pairing), suggesting that there may be additional modes of RISC-mRNA interaction. We will further characterize the nature of this interaction to better understand the mechanisms by which miRNA target recognition is regulated by tailing. We will also determine the extent to which TUMR contributes to both normal cell functions and to diseases. Our studies will pave the way for understanding the function of 3’ isomiRs in cancer. 

We will also study how 3’ tailing impacts miRNA stability. We found that Ago-bound mature miRNAs are uridylated and subsequently degraded by DIS3L2 when their 3’ end is dislocated from the Ago PAZ domain. This suggests that stability of RISC-associated miRNAs is potentially controlled by the accessibility of the 3’ end: Once the 3’ end is available, tailing licenses mature miRNA for degradation by 3’ to 5’ exonucleases such as DIS3L2. We will extend our study and rigorously examine the role of tailing in control of miRNA turnover.

Novel design of potent DNA-directed RNAi (shRNA) with minimal off-target effects.  DNA-directed RNAi (shRNA expressed from plasmids) is more desirable than traditional synthetic siRNAs in many applications. It is preferred or required in genetic screens and specific RNAi approaches in gene therapy settings. However, the application of ddRNAi is hampered due to unwanted off-target effects. Currently, attempts in reducing off-target effects are mainly based on empirical approaches with limited success.

We are interested in achieving such a goal through rational design based on the knowledge gained in the mechanistic studies outlined above. Our finding on Dicer processing has established the loop-counting rule, which laid the groundwork in designing Pol III-driven pre-miRNA-like shRNAs free of the off-target effects resulting from heterogeneous processing. We are currently working on transferring such a design into the Pol II system. In addition, based on the recent findings of how RISC interacts with its target mRNA on a molecular level, we are developing a novel strategy for designing shRNA with minimal off-target effects originating from the miRNA-like pathway.

NIH Scientific Focus Areas:
Cancer Biology, Cell Biology, Genetics and Genomics, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, RNA Biology
View Dr. Gu's Complete Bibliography at NCBI.

Selected Recent Publications

  1. Yang A, Shao TJ, Bofill-De Ros X, Lian C, Villanueva P, Dai L, Gu S.
    Nat Commun. 2020. [ Journal Article ]
  2. Yang A, Bofill-De Ros X, Shao TJ, Jiang M, Li K, Villanueva P, Dai L, Gu S.
    Mol Cell. May 25: 2019. [ Journal Article ]
  3. Bofill-De Ros X, Kasprzak WK, Bhandari Y, Fan L, Cavanaugh Q, Jiang M, Dai L, Yang A, Shao TJ, Shapiro BA, Wang YX, Gu S.
    Cell reports. 26: 447-459, 2019. [ Journal Article ]
  4. Bofill-De Ros X, Gu S.
    Methods. 2016 Jul 1;103: Epub 157-166, 2016. [ Journal Article ]
  5. Gu S, Jin L, Zhang Y, Huang Y, Zhang F, Valdmanis PN, Kay MA.
    Cell. 151: 900-11, 2012. [ Journal Article ]

Shuo Gu received his B.A. in Tsinghua University, China. He completed his Ph.D. training in the laboratory of Dr. John Rossi at Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope, Los Angeles. Shuo Gu undertook his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Mark Kay at Stanford University Medical School, Palo Alto. Both his Ph.D. and postdoctoral research focused on the mechanisms of RNA interference and microRNA pathways, and their applications in gene therapy. He joined the RNA Biology Laboratory (formerly the Gene Regulation and Chromosome Biology Laboratory) in 2013.

Name Position
Sarangelica Alamo-Ortiz Postbaccalaureate Fellow (CRTA)
Xavier Bofill de Ros Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Joe Karboski Postbaccalaureate Fellow (CRTA)
Sharan Malagobadan Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
James G. Shamul Predoctoral Fellow (Graduate Student)
Chunmei Shi M.D., Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (CRTA)
Ryan C. Stanton B.A. Postbaccalaureate Fellow (CRTA)
Acong Yang, Ph.D. Staff Scientist

Gene-regulating microRNAs gain control over hundreds of new genes with common sequence modification

RNA types

miRNAs, lncRNAs and circRNAs are newfound types of non-coding RNAs that are shedding light on the regulation of gene expression.
Photo courtesy of the NIH IRP 

MicroRNAs have an enormous influence over what happens inside cells. By blocking the activity of specific sets of genes, they help control virtually every known biological pathway and process. Disruptions in microRNAs have been linked to many diseases, and understanding how these molecules function, which genes they control and how they themselves are regulated are high priorities in cancer research. 

New research from Shuo Gu, Ph.D., Investigator in the RNA Biology Laboratory, shows that when a microRNA undergoes a common modification called uridylation, its genetic targets change. A single microRNA can regulate hundreds of different genes, but when a microRNA is uridylated, the team found, even more genes come under its control. 

Modifications to microRNAs that either clip off or add to their short sequences are widespread, but it has not been know what effect these modifications have on microRNA function. Until the new study, reported June 6, 2019, in Molecular Cell, there were few clues to suggest that uridylation might alter the way a microRNA interacts with its targets.

2019 CCR Excellence in Postdoctoral Transition Award

picture of Xavier Bofill de Ros

Xavier Bofill de Ros Visiting Fellow; mapping the miRNA maturation defects that lead to malignancy.

Outstanding Poster Award at the 2019 Spring Research Festival

Richard Ma (intern) - Gene Therapy Genome Editing, and Genetics

Congratulations to our Postbac Poster Day 2019 recipient

Ben Birkenfeld CRTA - Outstanding Poster Award

Congratulations to our NCI Director's Innovation Award recipients -

2020 Xavier Bofill de Ros Visiting Fellow

2018 Acong Yang Research Fellow

2017 Xavier Bofill de Ros Visiting Fellow