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Li Zhang completed her PhD from UCLA and postdoctoral studies from MIT department of Biology. She is the Cecil H. and Ida Green Distinguished Chair in Systems Biology Science at the University of Texas at Dallas. Professor Zhang’s laboratory has worked on studying heme signaling and function for 20+ years. She has published many original research articles and a book entitled “Heme Biology: The Secret Life of Heme in Regulating Diverse Biological Processes” on this subject. Professor Zhang’s laboratory has also made important contributions in understanding the roles of molecular chaperones in cellular signaling, molecular mechanisms of oxygen signaling, and the actions of neurotoxicants. Recently, Professor Zhang’s lab focuses on investigating heme function in lung cancer. She and colleagues have provided a unifying view of cancer bioenergetics in a review article entitled “A Holistic View of Cancer Bioenergetics: Mitochondrial Function and Respiration Play Fundamental Roles in the Development and Progression of Diverse Tumors,” published in the journal “Clinical and Translational Medicine.”
Heme, iron protoporphyrin IX, plays fundamental roles in virtually all living organisms. As a main source of iron for many pathogenic bacteria and fungi, heme impacts their virulence. In mammals, heme is required for the proper functioning of most, if not all, cells and organs. Accumulating evidence increasingly shows that altered heme flux and function contribute to the pathogenesis of many diseases, including common diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. This broad involvement of heme in human conditions stems in part from its central role in oxygen utilization and metabolism. Further, heme serves as a regulatory and signaling molecule that directly modulates many fundamental molecular and cellular processes by acting on diverse regulatory proteins impacting many physiological and pathological processes, such as tumorigenesis and neural development. I will review how heme modulates the activity of certain representative regulatory proteins, such as transcriptional regulators and histone demethylases. I will also provide recent experimental data implicating the roles of altered heme flux and metabolism in lung tumorigenesis and neuronal dysfunction.