Hermona Soreq: “I guess that I am always attracted to far horizons…”

Five minutes with Hermona Soreq, who will deliver the IUBMB Lecture at the 45th FEBS Congress

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Hermona Soreq is the Charlotte Slesinger Professor of Molecular Biology at the Hebrew University’s Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences and the Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences, Israel. A leader in the field of cholinesterase activities and their functions in the brain and periphery, with a recent focus on the role of regulatory RNAs, Soreq won honorary PhD degrees from Stockholm (1996), Erlangen-Nuremberg (2007) and Beer-Sheva (2007) as well as an Israeli Ministry of Health Prize (2000), Landau Prize for Biomedical Research (2005), Teva Prize for Molecular Medicine (2006), The Rappaport Prize for Biomedical research (2014), the Katzir Prize for Life Sciences (2017), the Lise Meitner Alexander Humboldt Research Prize, 2009, an advanced ERC award and two proof-of-concept ERC awards, 2013–2018 and a Neuroinflammation award, 2016. A council member of the International Society of Neurochemistry (2017–2019), Soreq is the president of the International organization for cholinergic mechanisms (2010–).

What drew you to your research field?

When I was a PhD student, molecular cell biology was the most exciting frontier; when I returned to Israel as an independent researcher, molecular brain research became amenable for experimental research. So, I guess that I am always attracted to far horizons…

An important step in my career was the selection of the molecular regulators of acetylcholine signalling as a focus: this became my favourite topic of research for several decades and is still exciting as new regulators are consistently being discovered.

What do you see as important recent developments in your field?

Our field is becoming closer to real life, and newer findings offer intriguing links to the roles of specific microRNAs and long non-coding RNAs in brain activities. Last year, the Ueda group in Japan identified the acetylcholine receptors as essential for REM sleep (Yamada, R.G. and Ueda, H.R., Front Neurosci. 2019), the Coupland group in the UK reported increased risks of dementia in aged individuals treated with anti-cholinergic drugs (Coupland, C.A.C. et al., JAMA Intern Med. 2019), and our group found the NEAT1 and LINC-PINT lncRNAs (Simchovitz, A. et al., FASEB J. 2019; Simchovitz et al., Aging Cell 2020) as altered in Parkinson’s disease, and male–female differences in men and women patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (Lobentanzer, S. et al., Cell Rep. 2019), all calling for precision medicine of brain diseases.

What’s exciting in your research at the moment?

We are currently shifting the focus of our studies from microRNAs to transfer RNA fragments (tRFs), which can alter immune reactions in blood cells as well as metabolic processes under diverse insults.

What’s currently your favourite technique / molecule / model system?

Technique: electrophoresis size selection-based quantification of tRFs from in vivo samples. Molecule: chemically protected antisense oligonucleotide suppressors of microRNAs and tRFs. Model system: Homo sapiens!

What are some of the challenges in your field right now?

The immense complexity of the mode of function of regulatory RNAs; male–female transcriptomic differences in patients with mental diseases; and combining the impact of short and long non-coding RNAs with that of protein-coding genes in biological processes at large and in brain functioning in particular.

What might be the highlights of a typical day at your workplace?

Viewing the visible effect of manipulating a microRNA in cultured cells in our confocal microscope; summarizing the outcome of a novel electrophoretic test and discovering the role of a new non-coding RNA in patients’ samples; learning that a manuscript we submitted had been accepted for publication.

What aspects of your life as a researcher do you most enjoy?

The above highlights are great fun, as is the understanding of a new mechanism which was unclear for a long time and the sparks of a good in-depth discussion with our group members.

It is not easy to find time for hands-on research as a group leader, but we may serve as the ‘archive’ for our students and post-docs, having been in the field for a long time. This may be truly satisfactory when I can shed light on an unclear outcome of an experiment thanks to experience.

How do you manage your research group?

We run routine lab meetings where both problems and new findings are discussed; my personal assistant is a cherished member of our group; a small team of researchers deals with the practical management issues; and a cultural committee of students plans and runs our parties.

What do you consider your most important functions as a group leader?

Selecting novel research topics that are both relevant and attractive; working with my group members on writing and publishing intriguing articles and reviews; leading each of my trainees to achieve the best they can; submitting winning competitive grants to make it all possible; and keeping contact with all of my group members, past and present.

What do you look for when selecting students and staff for your research group?

Sharp intellect and curiosity; good hands; professional ambition; rapid learning skills; and good social capacities and sense of humour for team work.

Introduction to Hermona Soreq's work

Research summary

The research work of Hermona Soreq has pioneered molecular biology and genomics approaches to neurotransmitter acetylcholine signaling, with focus on its non-coding RNA and microRNA (miR) regulation – spanning both basic and biomedical studies in health and disease. Soreq combines advanced RNA-sequencing technologies with computational neuroscience and transgenic engineering tools to investigate miR functions in the healthy and diseased brain, with a focus on acetylcholine-related processes. She demonstrated that acetylcholine signalling can be manipulated by oligonucleotide-mediated therapeutics, which can be relevant for anxiety-related, neuromuscular and neurodegenerative (Parkinson's and Alzheimer's) diseases but also for post-traumatic stress disorder and metabolic disorder; more recently, she found conspicuous differences between cortical transcriptomics of men and women with mental diseases and demonstrated long non-coding RNA activities in neurodegenerative disease brains. 

Lab webpage: https://elsc.huji.ac.il/faculty-staff/hermona-soreq 

Two recent/key papers:

Hanin, G. et al. (2018) miRNA-132 induces hepatic steatosis and hyperlipidaemia by synergistic multitarget suppressionGut 67, 1124–1134, doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2016-312869.

Lobentanzer, S., Hanin, G., Klein, J. and Soreq, H. (2019) Integrative transcriptomics reveals sexually dimorphic control of the cholinergic/neurokine interface in schizophrenia and bipolar disorderCell Reports 29, 764–777, doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.09.017

More information on the IUBMB plenary lecture at the 45th FEBS Congress

Hermona Soreq will deliver the IUBMB Lecture at the 45th FEBS Congress (now virtual) on Tuesday 6th July 2021 on ‘Carving the complex landscape of cholinergic signalling regulators’: 2021.febscongress.org

Top image of post: Sabine Zierer from Pixabay
The lecture date and location in this post were updated following postponement of the 45th FEBS Congress and then conversion to a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

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