Siavash K Kurdistani

Department Chair, Biological Chemistry, Biological Chemistry, University of California Los Angeles

Professor, Biological Chemistry, University of California Los Angeles

Professor, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California Los Angeles

(310) 794-5194

Laboratory Address:
615 Charles Young Dr.

Lab Number:
(310) 825-1206

Mailing Address:
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Department of Biological Chemistry
P.O. Box 951737
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Work Address:
615 Charles Young Dr.

Our laboratory investigates the functions of histones in regulation of specific biological processes and their alterations in human disease using biochemical, genetic, molecular biological and high-throughput approaches. Although we are agnostic to model systems, we choose and employ one that is most appropriate for the question being asked. Presently, we use cancer cell lines, human and murine embryonic stem cells, primary human cancer tissues as well as the model organism, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, to study the basic biology and pathophysiology of histones. We seek and welcome collaborations that will mutually enrich and enhance research by expanding technical and intellectual repertoire. Our mission is to cultivate a culture of intellectual curiosity and experimental exploration unencumbered by perceived dogma. We take deliberate risks to enable inquiry into uncharted territories, yet practice within our scientific space in order to incur the funds necessary to move forward with our unique vision and speculations. We encourage imaginative, inspired and original thinking that produce new scientific narratives devoid of hyperbole and cynicism. As students of life sciences, we are enamored by the biology of chromatin and feel privileged to explore the perplexity of its structure for the pure joy of discovery and the betterment of society.


Member, Cell & Developmental Biology GPB Home Area, Eli & Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research, Gene Regulation GPB Home Area, I3T Theme, JCCC Gene Regulation Program Area
Faculty, Cellular and Molecular Pathology PhD Program

Research Interests

Chromatin is a highly condensed complex of nucleic acid and basic proteins whose fundamental subunit, the nucleosome, has the same type of design in all eukaryotes. The nucleosome contains ~200 bp of DNA wrapped around an octamer of histones consisting of two copies of each histone H2A, H2B, H3 and H4. All histones are modified by covalent linkage of extra chemical moieties to the free groups of certain amino acids. Examples include acetylation and methylation of lysines, methylation of arginines and phosphorylation of serines. These modifications are transient and able to change the functional properties of the chromatin fiber, thereby affecting all cellular processes that are based on DNA such as transcription. Until recently, most studies of histone modifications have been by-and-large reductionist, focusing on individual promoters. While these studies have revealed important principles, a more comprehensive understanding of chromatin requires that we ascend in scale to genome-wide views to discern biological elements that are not apparent in gene-by-gene surveys. The overall goal of our laboratory is to understand the dynamics, establishment and maintenance mechanisms of histone modifications on a global scale. We use the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model organism and combine standard biochemistry, molecular biology, and genetic protocols with high throughput techniques such as DNA microarrays to simultaneously assay histone modifications throughout the genome. Preliminary evidence from our genome-wide studies suggests that we need to develop novel conceptual frameworks for integrating such global knowledge into a predictive model of chromatin biology. We are also interested in applying the lessons learned in yeast to higher eukaryotes. Such transition is straightforward due to the very high degree of conservation of both histone modifications and the relevant enzymes. Using the tools developed in yeast, we have recently shown that combinatorial patterns of histone modification are predictors of clinical outcome in prostate cancer.


Siavash Kurdistani is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Chemistry and an Associate Director of the UCLA-Cal Tech MSTP program. He earned his B.S. in Biochemistry from UCLA and M.D. from Harvard Medical School.

Awards and Honors

  • Harvard National Scholarship, Harvard Medical School, 1994-96.
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute Early Career Award, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2006-2009.
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Fellowship, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 1996-1999.
  • NIH Director's Innovator Award, National Institutes of Health, 2009.
  • The Arthur Furst Award, UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, 1994.
  • Lucy Wortham James Medical Student Research Award, Havard Medical School, 1995.
  • James Tolbert Shipely Prize, Harvard Medical School, 1999.
  • Elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), 2019.
  • W. M. Keck Foundation Research Award, W. M. Keck Foundation, 2018.
  • Chancellor's Award for Postdoctoral Fellows, UCLA, 2003.
  • Beckman Young Investigator Award, Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, 2007.
  • Kavli Fellow, The Kavli Foundation, 2011.
  • Alumni Association Distinguished Scholars Award, UCLA, 1992.
  • College of Letters & Science Scholar Award, UCLA, 1993.
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for Physicians, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 2001-2004.