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J. Marie Hardwick, PhD

Department Affiliations Molecular Microbiology & Immunology Bloomberg School of Public Health, Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, Neurology, Oncology, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
Rank David Bodian Professor
Office Phone 410-955-2716 Office/ 410-614-3130 Assistant
Lab Phone 410-614-3110
SOM Address E5140 Bloomberg School of Public Health Building

Heidi Galonek 1998 – 2005

Nicole Zadzilka 2004 – 2007

Research Interests

Programmed cell death is an essential process for eliminating cells during development, tissue remodeling and virus infections. Defects in the programmed cell death pathways lead to a variety of disease states. For example, insufficient cell death underlies the development and progression of cancer, while excessive cell death is responsible for a variety of neurological and other disease states. Our lab studies the basic molecular mechanisms of programmed cell death using cultured cell lines, neurons, mice, virus infections and yeast genetics. We have shown that viruses can trigger cells to activate a cellular apoptotic death pathway (Nature, 361:739-742, 1993). Virus-induced apoptotic cell death can be either a host defense mechanism or result in a disease state (J. Virol. 70:1828-1835, 1996; PNAS 94: 690-694, 1997). We also use viruses as tools to explore cellular pathways. Our Sindbis virus vector delivers genes of interest to a variety of cultured cell types and to neurons in mouse bains, facilitating the study and characterization of both cellular and viral regulators of apoptosis. (Nature 379:554-556, 1996; PNAS 93:4810-4815, 1996). This strategy has yielded some surprising findings about cellular and viral mechanisms of apoptosis (EMBO J. 15:2685-2694, 1996; J. Virol. 71:4118-4122, 1997; J. Virol. 72:327-338, 1998). For example, the Bax and Bak proteins are known to be potent pro-apoptotic members of the Bcl-2 family, but we found that these proteins potently protect neurons in culture and in mouse brains (Nature Med. 5:832-835, 1999) in part by regulating neuron excitability (Dev Cell, 4:575-585, 2003). Conversely, the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL proteins can be converted into pro-death molecules (Science 278:1966-1968, 1997; Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 95:554-559, 1998). The Sindbis virus vector has also allowed us to demonstrate that the genetic mutations in patients with spinal muscular atrophy convert an anti-apoptotic SMN protein into a killer protein (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci USA 97:13312-13317, 2000). The mechanisms by which Bcl-2 family proteins, viral Bcl-2 homologues and their binding partners, regulators of mitochondrial morphology and function and other modulators of cell survival/death are currently under study (Molec. Cell 6:31-40, 2000; J. Virol. 74:5024-5031, 2000, J. Biol. Chem. 276:31083-31091, 2001). These and other findings in our laboratory have led to new hypothesis about the “day jobs” versus “dark alley tricks” of cell death regulators.


Research Profile

NIH Publications Listing

Host cell death responses to virus infections of the brain and of yeast determine disease pathogenesis.

The overall theme under investigation in our lab is the host cell death machinery involved in disease pathogenesis, which started with these early studies of viral persistence, pathogenesis and toxicity. Ongoing studies extend from these studies by characterizing novel biochemical functions of cell death regulators.

  •  Levine B, Huang Q, Isaacs JT, Reed JC, Griffin DE, Hardwick JM, 1993. Conversion of lytic to persistent alphavirus infection by the bcl-2 cellular oncogene. Nature 361, 739-42. Citations: 519
  • Lewis J, Oyler GA, Ueno K, Fannjiang YR, Chau BN, Vornov J, Korsmeyer SJ, Zou S, Hardwick JM, 1999. Inhibition of virus-induced neuronal apoptosis by Bax. Nat Med 5, 832-5. Cited by 103
  • Ivanovska I, Hardwick JM, 2005. Viruses activate a genetically conserved cell death pathway in a unicellular organism. J Cell Biol 170, 391-9. Cited by 80. Featured in Editor’s Choice (same issue); Reviewed in AAAS Science STKE 296: p287

 Caspase proteases convert Bcl-2 family members and IAP proteins, but not their viral homologs, into potent cell death factors during infection and ischemic brain injury. Ongoing studies focus on how this conversion to killer mode is regulated in the mouse thymus.

  • Cheng EH, Kirsch DG, Clem RJ, Ravi R, Kastan MB, Bedi A, Ueno K, Hardwick JM, 1997. Conversion of Bcl-2 to a Bax-like death effector by caspases. Science 278, 1966-8. Cited by 1297
  • Clem RJ, Cheng EH, Karp CL, Kirsch DG, Ueno K, Takahashi A, Kastan MB, Griffin DE, Earnshaw WC, Veliuona MA, Hardwick JM, 1998. Modulation of cell death by Bcl-XL through caspase interaction. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 95, 554-9. Cited by 532
  • Kirsch DG, Doseff A, Chau BN, Lim DS, de Souza-Pinto NC, Hansford R, Kastan MB, Lazebnik YA, Hardwick JM, 1999. Caspase-3-dependent cleavage of Bcl-2 promotes release of cytochrome c. J Biol Chem 274, 21155-61. Cited by 487
  • Bellows DS, Chau BN, Lee P, Lazebnik Y, Burns WH, Hardwick JM, 2000. Antiapoptotic herpesvirus Bcl-2 homologs escape caspase-mediated conversion to proapoptotic proteins. J Virol 74, 5024-31. Cited by 147
  • Clem RJ, Sheu TT, Richter BW, He WW, Thornberry NA, Duckett CS, Hardwick JM, 2001. c-IAP1 is cleaved by caspases to produce a proapoptotic C-terminal fragment. J Biol Chem 276, 7602-8. Cited by 123
  • Seo SY, Chen YB, Ivanovska I, Ranger AM, Hong SJ, Dawson VL, Korsmeyer SJ, Bellows DS, Fannjiang Y, Hardwick JM, 2004. BAD is a pro-survival factor prior to activation of its pro-apoptotic function. J Biol Chem 279, 42240-9. Cited by 54
  • Ofengeim D, Chen YB, Miyawaki T, Li H, Sacchetti S, Flannery RJ, Alavian KN, Pontarelli F, Roelofs BA, Hickman JA, Hardwick* JM, Zukin* RS, Jonas* EA, 2012. N-terminally cleaved Bcl-xL mediates ischemia-induced neuronal death. Nat Neurosci 15, 574-80. Featured in the Scientist, and Neurosci News & Views: Chemo for stroke (same issue); Cited by 38

Non-apoptotic functions of cell death factors in healthy cells.

Before Bcl-2 family proteins and caspases engage the apoptosis pathway they have novel non-apoptotic roles in healthy cells (e.g. regulating neuronal activity, mitochondrial energetics, and more). Ongoing studies investigate novel membrane functions of viral and cellular apoptosis proteins.

  • Cheng EH, Levine B, Boise LH, Thompson CB, Hardwick JM, 1996. Bax-independent inhibition of apoptosis by Bcl-XL. Nature 379, 554-6. Cited by 510
  • Fannjiang Y, Kim CH, Huganir RL, Zou S, Lindsten T, Thompson CB, Mito T, Traystman RJ, Larsen T, Griffin DE, Mandir AS, Dawson TM, Dike S, Sappington AL, Kerr DA, Jonas EA, Kaczmarek LK, Hardwick JM, 2003. BAK alters neuronal excitability and can switch from anti- to pro-death function during postnatal development. Dev Cell 4, 575-85. Cited by 92
  • Jonas EA, Hoit D, Hickman JA, Brandt TA, Polster BM, Fannjiang Y, McCarthy E, Montanez MK, Hardwick JM, Kaczmarek LK, 2003. Modulation of synaptic transmission by the BCL-2 family protein BCL-xL. J Neurosci 23, 8423-31. Featured in: This Week in the Journal (same issue); Cited by 91
  • Hickman JA, Hardwick JM, Kaczmarek LK, Jonas EA, 2008. Bcl-xL inhibitor ABT-737 reveals a dual role for Bcl-xL in synaptic transmission. J Neurophysiol 99, 1515-22. Cited by 35.
  • Berman SB, Chen YB, Qi B, McCaffery JM, Rucker EB, 3rd, Goebbels S, Nave KA, Arnold BA, Jonas EA, Pineda FJ, Hardwick JM, 2009. Bcl-x L increases mitochondrial fission, fusion, and biomass in neurons. J Cell Biol 184, 707-19.; Featured on issue cover; Cited by 150
  • Alavian KN, Li H, Collis L, Bonanni L, Zeng L, Sacchetti S, Lazrove E, Nabili P, Flaherty B, Graham M, Chen Y, Messerli SM, Mariggio MA, Rahner C, McNay E, Shore GC, Smith PJ, Hardwick JM, Jonas EA, 2011. Bcl-xL regulates metabolic efficiency of neurons through interaction with the mitochondrial F1FO ATP synthase. Nat Cell Biol 13, 1224-33. Cited by 134
  • Chen YB, Aon MA, Hsu YT, Soane L, Teng X, McCaffery JM, Cheng WC, Qi B, Li H, Alavian KN, Dayhoff-Brannigan M, Zou S, Pineda FJ, O’Rourke B, Ko YH, Pedersen PL, Kaczmarek LK, Jonas EA, Hardwick JM, 2011. Bcl-xL regulates mitochondrial energetics by stabilizing the inner membrane potential. J Cell Biol 195, 263-76. Cited by 100
  • Aouacheria A, Combet C, Tompa P, Hardwick JM, 2015. Redefining the BH3 Death Domain as a ‘Short Linear Motif’. Trends Biochem Sci 40, 736-48. Cited by 12
  • White K, Arama E, Hardwick JM, 2017. Controlling caspase activity in life and death. PLoS Genet 13, e1006545.

Cell death model system for yeast uncovers prevalence of non-random genome plasticity – one mutation leads to two mutations, and the same pairs of mutant genes co-occur in human tumors.

Using new tools to study gene-dependent cell death in Saccharomyces cerevisiae, we uncovered many surprises, including a widespread phenomenon of directional gene mutation-drive genome evolution, potentially reflective of early steps towards cancer. Ongoing studies seek to translate these findings to mammalian tumorigenesis. Parallel studies in yeast seek to identify yet unknown pathways.

  • Fannjiang Y, Cheng WC, Lee SJ, Qi B, Pevsner J, McCaffery JM, Hill RB, Basanez G, Hardwick JM, 2004. Mitochondrial fission proteins regulate programmed cell death in yeast. Genes Dev 18, 2785-97. Cited by 265.
  • Teng X, Cheng WC, Qi B, Yu TX, Ramachandran K, Boersma MD, Hattier T, Lehmann PV, Pineda FJ, Hardwick JM, 2011. Gene-dependent cell death in yeast. Cell Death Dis 2, e188. Cited by 25
  • Teng X, Dayhoff-Brannigan M, Cheng WC, Gilbert CE, Sing CN, Diny NL, Wheelan SJ, Dunham MJ, Boeke JD, Pineda FJ, Hardwick JM, 2013. Genome-wide consequences of deleting any single gene. Mol Cell 52, 485-94. Cited by 53. Featured in The Scientist, “One gene, two mutations”; SGD New & Noteworthy, “Gene knockouts may not be so clean after all”; NIH/ NIGMS Biomedical Beat blog

Yeast cell death genetics – a path to understanding brain function and neurodegeneration.

The top hit in our genome-wide yeast screens was a previously unrecognized homolog of newly identified but uncharacterized disease genes associated with epilepsy and specific cancers. Current studies seek to map nutrient-sensing pathways in mouse epilepsy models.

  • Cheng WC, Teng X, Park HK, Tucker CM, Dunham MJ, Hardwick JM, 2008. Fis1 deficiency selects for compensatory mutations responsible for cell death and growth control defects. Cell Death Differ 15, 1838-46. Cited by 38
  • Hartman AL, Zheng X, Bergbower E, Kennedy M, Hardwick JM, 2010. Seizure tests distinguish intermittent fasting from the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia 51, 1395-402. Cited by 28
  • Hartman AL, Santos P, Dolce A, Hardwick JM, 2012. The mTOR inhibitor rapamycin has limited acute anticonvulsant effects in mice. PLoS One 7, e45156. Cited by 33
  • Hartman AL, Santos P, O’Riordan KJ, Stafstrom CE, Hardwick JM, 2015. Potent anti-seizure effects of D-leucine. Neurobiol Dis 82, 46-53. Cited by 7.

Widespread basal (day-job) caspase activity in healthy cells.

Our early work on caspases in regulating viral pathogenesis uncovered clues that caspases have additional non-apoptotic roles in healthy cells prior to activation of cell death. An ultrasensitive caspase biosensor for Drosophila engineered by Hogan Tang, designated CaspaseTracker to study “anastasis”, also provides the first clear evidence of widespread caspase activity in healthy long-lived cells of many fly tissues, including neurons in the brain. Now we seek the functions of these “healthy” caspases.