Many genome-wide association studies have been unable to identify the genetic basis of traits that we know to be heritable. In some cases this is clearly due to an extraordinary degree of genetic complexity and epistasis. Yet in other cases the reasons are elusive. During their lifetimes, individuals commonly experience transient changes in gene expression as a result of different environmental stimuli. These responses are classically thought to have no heritable influence once they decay. However, we have recently discovered that such environmental stimuli frequently induce self-perpetuating changes in protein conformations. This occurs most commonly in proteins that regulate gene expression: transcription factors and RNA binding proteins. These self-templating changes in protein conformation can be broadly defined as `prions,' although their structures do not usually match the cross-beta sheet amyloids of the archetypical prion PrP. However, like known prions, corresponding changes in protein function are heritable from one generation to the next without any change to the genome2-4. In this sense, such protein-based inheritance represents and extreme form of epigenetics. The goals of this project are to systematically identify and characterize similar epigenetic elements in eukaryotic proteomes and investigate their influence on disease, development, and evolution. Our results will also providing a mechanistic understanding of how protein homeostasis fuels inheritance that is quasi-Lamarckian in character, but firmly rooted in a Darwinian framework of mutation and natural selection. New innovator funding will enable my laboratory to carry out the high-risk science necessary both to uncover the principles of this new realm of biology and to investigate the therapeutic implications of our findings.

Public Health Relevance

Infectious `misfolded' protein conformations, prions, initiate several devastating neurodegenerative diseases, but there is now strong evidence that they can also have benefits in processes ranging long-term synapse facilitation to innate immunity. Current knowledge of the sequence features that promote this behavior, the biochemistry of self-templating, and the physiological consequences of prion formation is fragmentary and has been gleaned entirely from a handful of pathological examples. This proposal describes a strategy to broadly characterize prion-like assemblies that are commonly formed by proteins that regulate information flow: transcription factors and RNA binding proteins. Lessons learned will provide much needed insight into mechanisms of pathological and beneficial protein aggregation alike, and how they can be modulated for therapeutic benefit.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
NIH Director’s New Innovator Awards (DP2)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel ()
Program Officer
Maas, Stefan
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Stanford University
Schools of Medicine
United States
Zip Code
Zabinsky, Rebecca A; Mason, Grace Alexandria; Queitsch, Christine et al. (2018) It's not magic - Hsp90 and its effects on genetic and epigenetic variation. Semin Cell Dev Biol :
Xie, Jinglin Lucy; Jarosz, Daniel F (2018) Mutations, protein homeostasis, and epigenetic control of genome integrity. DNA Repair (Amst) :
She, Richard; Jarosz, Daniel F (2018) Mapping Causal Variants with Single-Nucleotide Resolution Reveals Biochemical Drivers of Phenotypic Change. Cell 172:478-490.e15
Chakravarty, Anupam K; Jarosz, Daniel F (2018) More than Just a Phase: Prions at the Crossroads of Epigenetic Inheritance and Evolutionary Change. J Mol Biol 430:4607-4618
Itakura, Alan K; Futia, Raymond A; Jarosz, Daniel F (2018) It Pays To Be in Phase. Biochemistry 57:2520-2529
Harvey, Zachary H; Chen, Yiwen; Jarosz, Daniel F (2018) Protein-Based Inheritance: Epigenetics beyond the Chromosome. Mol Cell 69:195-202
Jakobson, Christopher M; Jarosz, Daniel F (2018) Organizing biochemistry in space and time using prion-like self-assembly. Curr Opin Syst Biol 8:16-24
Byers, James S; Jarosz, Daniel F (2017) High-throughput Screening for Protein-based Inheritance in S. cerevisiae. J Vis Exp :
She, Richard; Chakravarty, Anupam K; Layton, Curtis J et al. (2017) Comprehensive and quantitative mapping of RNA-protein interactions across a transcribed eukaryotic genome. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 114:3619-3624
Chakrabortee, Sohini; Byers, James S; Jones, Sandra et al. (2016) Intrinsically Disordered Proteins Drive Emergence and Inheritance of Biological Traits. Cell 167:369-381.e12

Showing the most recent 10 out of 11 publications