Nara Lee, PhD

  • Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

Education & Training

  • PhD in Molecular Biology, University of Heidelberg (Germany), 2006
  • Diploma in Biology, University of Heidelberg (Germany), 2002

Research Interests

Exploring the Noncoding World

Many noncoding (nc)RNAs execute diverse cellular functions and are equally important as their coding counterparts. In recent years, owing to the development of cutting-edge technology, such as next-generation sequencing, the detection of ncRNAs and elucidation of their functions have been facilitated. However, compared to the large number of identified ncRNAs, only a minute fraction has been ascribed a specific function, as more and more surprising aspects regarding their mode of action are being uncovered. 

Our lab studies the molecular function of two enigmatic ncRNAs from the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) called EBER1 (EBV-encoded RNA 1) and EBER2. EBV is an oncogenic gamma-herpesvirus with a prevalence of over 90% in the human population and is associated with several types of cancers, such as lymphomas and carcinomas. We apply modern RNA techniques as well as refine existing tools to uncover the modes of action of these viral transcripts. Utilizing these methodologies, our work has revealed a role in transcription regulation for EBER2 and how it ensures efficient viral replication. 

A second focus of research is centered on studying the genome architecture of influenza viruses. Given the fact that influenza viruses harbor a genome consisting of RNA, many of the RNA-centric tools we employ to study ncRNAs can be applied to examine how the viral RNA genome is organized during replication. In collaboration with the Lakdawala lab, we have uncovered molecular details of how the genome associates with viral proteins and how long-range RNA-RNA interactions are essential for viral packaging. 


Nanni AV and Lee N. 2018. Identification of host RNAs that interact with EBV noncoding RNA EBER2. RNA Biol. 15: 1181-1191.

Lee N, Le Sage V, Nanni AV, Snyder DJ, Cooper VS and Lakdawala SS. 2017. Genome-wide Analysis of Influenza Viral RNA and Nucleoprotein Association. Nucleic Acids Res. 15: 8968-8977.

Lee N, Yario TA, Gao JS and Steitz JA. 2016. EBV noncoding RNA EBER2 interacts with host RNA-binding proteins to regulate viral gene expression. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 113: 3221-3226.

Lee N, Moss WN, Yario TA. and Steitz JA. 2015. EBV noncoding RNA binds nascent RNA to drive host PAX5 to viral DNA. Cell: 160: 607-618.

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