First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Teresa Vitali is first author on ‘ Vimentin intermediate filaments provide structural stability to the mammalian Golgi complex’, published in JCS. Teresa undertook the work while a Research Associate in the lab of Martin Lowe at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Manchester, UK. Teresa has since spent time as a Senior Research Assistant in the lab of Dr Inhee Chung at George Washington University, Washington, USA and will soon be starting a new role at Washington University Saint Louis, USA. She is interested in cytoskeletal organization and function in diverse cellular processes (at the molecular and cellular level), and in pathological contexts like cancer and infection.

Teresa Vitali

How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?

Cells are very dynamic and need to support many processes to functionally and stably maintain themselves. They do this in two main ways: by transporting molecules (trafficking) and by having a stable, supportive internal structure, analogous to bones (called the cytoskeleton). In this article, we show how the vimentin intermediate filaments, a cytoskeleton component, are important in maintaining the structure and function of the Golgi, which is the centre of protein trafficking and secretion. We have been able to demonstrate this relationship by eliminating vimentin, the Golgi protein Gorab, or both, in cultured mouse embryonic fibroblasts. We were then able to analyse the effects on Golgi morphology by observing disassembly and reassembly using fluorescence microscopy.

Were there any specific challenges associated with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?

Fortunately, few challenges arose during the experiments. Initially, the absence of the vimentin filaments did not affect the Golgi morphology under steady state conditions. However, preliminary data suggested a relationship between the two. We therefore did not give up and looked more carefully at the stability of the Golgi during its fragmentation over time, and here, we clearly saw a faster fragmentation of the Golgi in vimentin-knockout cells in support of our initial hypothesis.

Have you had any significant mentors who have helped you beyond supervision in the lab? How was their guidance special?

I have had several mentors during my research career path. All of them played important and different roles based on my research position and career stage. Prof. Maria Antonietta Vanoni, my PhD mentor, taught me how to think and walk through the research world with passion and dedication. Moving forward in my career, my successive mentors Dr Paul Randazzo (NIH/NCI/CCR) and Prof. Martin Lowe (University of Manchester, UK) trained me in other important aspects of being a scientist, such as being independent in planning experiments, writing and reviewing. I am really grateful and thankful to all my mentors. I wouldn't be where I am without them.

Mouse embryonic fibroblasts stained for GORAB (in red) and GM130 (in green), TGN and cis-Golgi protein markers, cultured on a stiff substrate.

Mouse embryonic fibroblasts stained for GORAB (in red) and GM130 (in green), TGN and cis-Golgi protein markers, cultured on a stiff substrate.

What motivated you to pursue a career in science, and what have been the most interesting moments on the path that led you to where you are now?

Understanding, discovery and curiosity drove me to pursue a scientific career. I have always been fascinated by the unbelievable power of invisible molecules, like proteins, that are able to catalyze such difficult reactions. The other main reason why I love doing research is the never-ending learning and growing at any stage of your career.

What's next for you?

My big dream is still to have my own research lab in academia. My next step to move forward in this direction is being a research scientist at Washington University in St Louis before planning to become, hopefully, an assistant professor.

What's the most important piece of advice you would give first-year PhD students?

The first year of the PhD is a key moment for a future research scientist. It's the transition from being a student to becoming a more independent scientist. My best advice is to follow the field that drives your curiosity, and engages your mind and thoughts the most in order to learn and grow as much as possible.

What changes do you think could improve the professional lives of early-career scientists?

Being a scientist is not the easiest job one can choose. It's probably the hardest career to reach and maintain. Introducing more opportunities for early career researchers, and grants to help transition young scientists to principal investigators would definitely improve success. Having supportive collaborations and resources from the employer would definitely help as well.

Teresa Vitali's contact details: George Washington University, Department of Anatomy and Pathology, Washington, DC, USA.

E-mail: vitaliteresa4@gmail.com

Vitali
,
T.
,
Sanchez-Alvarez
,
R.
,
Witkos
,
T. M.
,
Bantounas
,
I.
,
Cutiongco
,
M. F. A.
,
Dudek
,
M.
,
Yan
,
G.
,
Mironov
,
A. A.
,
Swift
,
J.
and
Lowe
,
M.
(
2023
).
Vimentin intermediate filaments provide structural stability to the mammalian Golgi complex
.
J. Cell Sci.
136
,
jcs260577
.