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. Nazlı Ezgi Özkan is first author on ‘ Cell cycle-dependent palmitoylation of protocadherin 7 by ZDHHC5 promotes successful cytokinesis’, published in JCS. Nazlı Ezgi conducted the research described in this article while a PhD student in Nurhan Özlü’s lab at Koc University, Istanbul, Türkiye, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics. She is now a postdoc in the lab of in the same lab, working on understanding the role of post-translational modifications in cell division using a combination of cell biology and proteomics approaches.

Nazlı Ezgi Özkan

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

PCDH7 is an adhesion molecule that localizes to the cell surface, especially during mitosis. Since this localization pattern is not so common for adhesion molecules, we were curious about understanding the role and regulation of PCDH7 in cell division. We found that PCDH7 interacts with ZDHHC5, which is an enzyme that adds a specific fatty acid modification (palmitoylation) to proteins. We further showed that PCDH7 itself is palmitoylated by ZDHHC5 and this activity is required for the cell division-specific localization of PCDH7. To understand the role of this duo in cell division, we targeted PCDH7 and ZDHHC5, and revealed that depleting these proteins interferes with the cell division process and produces multinucleated cells, which are the result of failed cell division. We also showed that interruption of cell division is related to reduced RhoA and myosin activity, which are well-known cell division players. In summary, for the first time, we showed that PCDH7 and its cell cycle-specific palmitoylation are important for the fidelity of cell division. This might be the first example of many proteins whose localization and/or activity during cell division is regulated through palmitoylation events and opens a new chapter to better understand the cell division process.

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

Looking at the possible interaction partners to understand how a protein works is rather challenging. You usually have an interactome map that can lead you to many different paths, each possibly being ‘the stairway to heaven’ or a ‘dead end’. At first, we struggled to find which way to go and walked back and forth on different paths. Fortunately, we were able to find the right path that led us to reveal the effect of palmitoylation and ZDHHC5 on PCDH7's cell cycle-specific localization. In addition to scientific challenges, we also had to face restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic like many other scientists worldwide.

When doing the research, did you have a particular result or ‘eureka’ moment that has stuck with you?

Yes! That was the moment when we first saw the effect of palmitoylation inhibition on PCDH7's localization.

Why did you choose Journal of Cell Science for your paper?

JCS is a well-established journal that offers a collection of high-quality scientific research. We believe that our research fits well with the scope of JCS, and will be beneficial to its broad readership.

ZDHHC5 knockdown prevents PCDH7's mitotic cell surface enrichment.

ZDHHC5 knockdown prevents PCDH7's mitotic cell surface enrichment.

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

My supportive academic mother, Prof. Nurhan Özlü, guided me through my doctoral and postdoctoral studies beyond academic intellectuality.

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?

Growing up as a child of a biology teacher, I was always interested in science, most probably because there was always some kind of scientific material within my reach. I remember that the popular science magazines that announced the ‘Human Genome Project’ (I still keep copies) fascinated me and decided to work in the molecular biology and genetics field. However, in my career, there was a period when I drifted away from science and started to work in a company; this was until one awakening night, where I questioned my life and remembered my childhood dream to become a scientist, which was followed by resigning from my job and starting my Master's studies right away. Since then, I’ve been quite happy with the path that I've chosen.

Who are your role models in science? Why?

All the ‘women in science’ out there doing terrific jobs despite all the difficulties.

What's next for you?

I love doing research and want to move forward in academia.

Tell us something interesting about yourself that wouldn't be on your CV

There is nothing more relaxing than sitting by the sea on a Mediterranean summer evening with your home-brewed beer (a little bit of science in there too!).

Nazlı Ezgi Özkan's contact details: Koc University Research Center for Translational Medicine, Istanbul, Türkiye.

E-mail: nazozkan@ku.edu.tr

Ozkan
,
N. E.
,
Yigit
,
B. N.
,
Degirmenci
,
B. S.
,
Qureshi
,
M. H.
,
Yapici
,
G. N.
,
Kamacıoglu
,
A.
,
Bavili
,
N.
,
Kiraz
,
A.
and
Ozlu
,
N.
(
2023
).
Cell cycle-dependent palmitoylation of protocadherin 7 by ZDHHC5 promotes successful cytokinesis
.
J. Cell Sci.
136
,
jcs260266
.