Adam Kwiatkowski, PhD

Dr. Adam Kwiatkowski is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Cell Biology in the School of Medicine.  Dr. Kwiatkowski received his undergraduate training in Biology at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, where he graduated with Honors.  He then completed his graduate and PhD education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Dr. Kwiatkowski participated in post-doctoral training as a Fellow at Stanford University, Stanford, California.  Upon completion of his work in 2012 at Stanford, Dr. Kwiatkowski came to Pitt.

The long-term objective of Dr. Kwiatkowski’s work is to gain a deep mechanistic understanding of cardiomyocyte adhesion and cytoskeletal organization at the intercalated disc. He and his team’s approach is to define mechanisms of cell-cell adhesion, and downstream regulation of actin and intermediate filament organization by the a-catenin family of cytoskeleton regulators. This is an important biomedical problem because mutations in cell adhesion and cytoskeletal proteins at the intercalated disc formation are linked to cardiomyopathies, including arrythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC).

Cardiomyocytes are linked end-to-end by intercalated discs, specialized structures that couple cell signaling, electrical, and mechanical operations required for heart function. The intercalated disc comprises adherens junction and desmosomes that couple the actin and intermediate filament cytoskeletons, respectively, to the plasma membrane. a-Catenin is a multifunctional actin-binding protein that links the core component of the adherens junction, the cadherin-catenin complex, to the actin cytoskeleton, and is required to regulate cell adhesion, movement, and proliferation. Two a-catenins, aE-catenin and aT-catenin, are expressed in the mammalian heart, and loss of either a-catenin in mice causes defects in heart function, and mutations in aT-catenin have been linked to ARVC in humans. Furthermore, aT-catenin binds the desmosomal protein plakophilin-2, and thus may link the actin and intermediate filament cytoskeletons.  However, the molecular mechanisms governing junction complex assembly at the intercalated disc are poorly understood, and a-catenin functions in actin organization and cytoskeletal network integration at the intercalated disc are unclear.

Dr. Kwiatkowski hypothesizes that a-catenins are central regulators of actin dynamics that control cardiomyocyte adhesion and cytoskeletal organization. Building on the team’s past work and experience with a-catenin, they are using a combination of protein biochemistry, cell biology, super resolution, and electron microscopy to study a-catenin function in cardiomyocytes. The work will yield novel insight into a-catenin functions and establish new models for cellular control of cytoskeletal organization in cardiomyocytes.

Dr. Kwiatkowski is a member of these professional and scientific societies:  American Society for Cell Biology, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the American Heart Association.  He is an ad-hoc reviewer for these publications:  eLife, Journal of Cell Biology, PLOS ONE, Journal of Cell Science, and Molecular Biology of the Cell.

Visit the Kwiatkowski Lab website here.

View a list of Dr. Kwiatkowski’s publications here.