Bhatnagar, Sanchita

Sanchita Bhatnagar

Sanchita Bhatnagar

Primary Appointment

Assistant Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics


  • Postdoc, Molecular Cell and Cancer Biology, University of Massachusetts Medical School
  • PhD, Infectious Diseases, University of Notre Dame

Contact Information

PO Box 800733
1340 JPA Pinn Hall Room 6044B
Charlottesville, VA 22908
Telephone: (434)982-6441
Fax: (434)924-5069

Research Interests

Epigenetic Silencing Mechanisms-Implications in Breast Cancer and Rett Syndrome

Research Description

We are interested in understanding the regulation of gene expression by epigenetic modifications. Alterations in epigenetic regulation contribute to a number of developmental anomalies, genetic disorders and diseases, including cancer. Therefore, a detailed understanding of the mechanisms involved in epigenetic silencing is expected to shed light on these human disease states and suggest new therapeutic approaches. To pursue these interests, we use transcription-based approaches, functional screens and genomic approaches to identify new genes and regulatory pathways involved in disease initiation and progression. The projects in the lab are summarized below: (1) Oncogenic TRIM37 as a Therapeutic Target for Breast Cancer TRIM37 is located in the 17q23 chromosomal region, which is amplified in up to ~40% of breast cancers. We demonstrated that TRIM37 functions as a H2A E3 ubiquitin ligase that mono-ubiquitinates histone H2A at lysine 119, a chromatin modification associated with transcriptional repression. Genome-wide chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)-chip experiments in 17q23-amplified breast cancer cells identified many genes, including multiple tumor suppressors. We showed that TRIM37, along with PRC2 and PRC1 are co-bound to specific target genes resulting in their transcriptional silencing. Moreover, knockdown of TRIM37 in human breast cancer cells substantially decreases tumor growth in mouse xenografts. We believe that TRIM37 is an important biomarker and an attractive target for breast cancer therapeutics. To target TRIM37 for breast cancer therapeutics, we are investigating the determinant(s) of TRIM37 selective recruitment to tumor suppressors leading to their silencing. (2) Reactivation of the Inactive X-Linked MECP2 Gene as a Therapeutic Strategy for Rett Syndrome Mammalian X chromosome inactivation (XCI) is an epigenetic process to silence the extra X chromosome in the female. We have identified several trans-acting XCI factors (XCIFs) through large-scale RNA interference screen. Interfering with the function of these XCIFs either by shRNA or small molecule inhibitors reactivated the silent X chromosome in mouse fibroblasts, differentiated embryonic stem cells and fibroblast cell line derived from a RTT patient. The reversal of XCI is therapeutically relevant to many X-linked diseases specifically to Rett Syndrome (RTT). RTT is an autism spectrum disorder affecting 1 in 10,000 girls that is caused by a defective copy of MECP2 gene. We want to develop the reversal of XCI as a therapy of RTT by reactivating the endogenous wild-type copy of MECP2 on the silenced X chromosome. We are interested in testing small molecule drugs that can reactivate the Xi-linked MECP2 gene, in vitro and in vivo. A postdoctoral position is available to study in the laboratory immediately.

Selected Publications