I studied Biology at the Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany and obtained a Masters degree from Université Paris VI and the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, France. I earned my PhD from Heidelberg University after performing PhD studies at EMBL Heidelberg, Germany and the Temasek Life Sciences Institute, Singapore. From 2010 to 2016, I was a Postdoctoral fellow at University of California, Berkeley, USA in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.

Since 2017, I lead a Max Planck Research at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, Germany. My lab studies the genetics and epigenetics of the nervous system. We investigate neuron-specific RNA signatures and their role in neuronal development and function by using various technologies, ranging from functional Drosophila genetics, behavior studies, and imaging, to RNA biochemistry and our special focus, brain transcriptomics.

Education and positions held

  • 2010-2016
    • Postdoc at UC Berkeley with Michael Levine and Donald Rio
  • 2006-2010
    • PhD in Biology, EMBL Heidelberg
  • 2000-2006
    • Master in Biology at Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) and Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris VI)

Research Summary

The nervous system is composed of highly polarized cells of complex and dynamic architecture. The formation and maintenance of neurons and neural circuits require the coordinated expression of genes at each step of RNA metabolism: from transcription, processing, localized transport and translation, to degradation.

To achieve this level of complexity, neurons employ mechanisms that increase RNA regulatory potential: alternative splicing, alternative polyadenylation, and non-coding RNA expression. Although relatively little is known about how these mechanisms control neuronal development and function, the importance of RNA-directed regulation in the brain is exemplified by its implication in neurological diseases. To understand the molecular processes underlying such pathologies, we need to gain mechanistic and functional insight into how RNA diversity is regulated. Neurons are characterized by the expression of RNA sequences that are found in no other cell type: neuron-specific mRNA splice isoforms, circular RNAs, microRNAs, and ultra-long 3’UTRs.

We study how these neuronal RNA signatures are specifically produced, post-transcriptionally regulated, and how they are involved in neuronal development and function. We use Drosophila as a model system for neurodevelopmental genetics. We focus in particular, on RNA processes regulated by RNA-binding proteins of the highly conserved ELAV family of pan-neuronal proteins.

Key publications

  • Carrasco, J.; Rauer, M.; Hummel, B.; Grzejda, D.; Alfonso-Gonzalez, C.; Lee, Y.; Wang, Q.; Puchalska, M.; Mittler, G.; Hilgers, V.: ELAV and FNE Determine Neuronal Transcript Signatures through EXon-Activated Rescue. Molecular Cell 80, pp. 156 – 163 (2020)
  • Wang, Q.; Taliaferro, J. M.; Klibaite, U.; Hilgers, V.; Shaevitz, J. W.; Rio, D. C.: The PSI-U1 snRNP interaction regulates male mating behavior in Drosophila. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113, pp. 5269 – 5274 (2016)
  • Oktaba, K.; Zhang, W.; Lotz, T. S.; Jun, D. J.; Lemke, S. B.; Ng, S. P.; Esposito, E.; Levine, M.; Hilgers, V.: ELAV links paused Pol II to alternative polyadenylation in the Drosophila nervious system. Molecular Cell 57, pp. 341 – 348 (2015)
  • Hilgers, V.; Lemke, S. B.; Levine, M.: ELAV mediates 3′ UTR extension in the Drosophila nervous system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 26, pp. 2259 – 2264 (2012)
  • Hilgers, V.; Perry, M. W.; Hendrix, D.; Stark, A.; Levine, M.; Haley, B.: Neural-specific elongation of 3′ UTRs during Drosophila development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108, pp. 15864 – 15869 (2011)