Dr. Velia M. Fowler is a Professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Biology at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. She leads an interdisciplinary team to study the regulation of actin filament dynamics in lenses, red blood cells and striated muscles. Actin filaments are intrinsically polarized, with distinct fast growing (barbed) and slow growing (pointed) ends. Dr. Fowler discovered a novel family of actin filament pointed-end capping proteins, known as tropomodulins (Tmods), that are present in all cells. Tmods are the only proteins that regulate pointed-end actin filament dynamics and are critical for assembly and architecture of both stable and dynamic cell cytoskeletons.
The lab aims to understand how the loss of Tmods affects the integrity and development of the lens. Through integration of cell biology, biochemistry, high resolution microscopy and mouse genetics, the Fowler lab has demonstrated that loss of Tmod1 in mouse lenses leads to disordered lens fiber cells and changes in the mechanical properties of the lens. Recent work has shown, for the first time, that normal lens coupling conductance in the mouse lens depends on proper localization and size of gap junction plaques in lens fiber cells. The assembly/stability of large micron-size gap junction plaques in the lens depends on two biochemically linked cytoskeletal systems, the actin-spectrin membrane skeleton and beaded intermediate filament network.
Regulation of the assembly and disassembly of actin filaments by Tmods is crucial for embryonic development and maintaining life-long homeostasis in adult tissues. With over 95 publications, the lab continues to research the connections between actin dynamics, assembly and organization of actin cytoskeletal structures, cell shape and integrity, and physiological function and disease.