Asifa Akhtar How Does the Enzyme MOF Work as a Molecular Bridge between Epigenetics and Metabolism?

Asifa Akhtar is Director at the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, Germany, heading the Department of Chromatin Regulation. Furthermore, she serves as evaluator for numerous research and funding organizations and works as an editor for well-recognized scientific journals like eLife and PLoS Genetics. Before joining the Max Planck Society as a Max Planck Investigator in 2009, she was a group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Germany. Akhtar’s research investigates the influence of chromatin and epigenetic mechanisms on gene expression. For her scientific achievements Akhtar received the European Life Science Organization (ELSO) Early Career Award in 2008 and the Feldberg Prize in 2017. In 2013, she was elected as an EMBO member.

Area of Research

Molecular Genetics

Fidel Ramírez, Thomas Lingg, Sarah Toscano, Kin Chung Lam, Plamen Georgiev, Ho-Ryun Chung, Bryan R. Lajoie, Elzo de Wit, Ye Zhan, Wouter de Laat, Job Dekker, Thomas Manke and Asifa Akhtar. "High-affinity Sites form an Interaction Network to Facilitate Spreading of the MSL Complex Across the X Chromosome in Drosophila." Molecular Cell 60 (2015): 146-162.  
Ibrahim Avsar Ilik, Jeffrey J. Quinn, Plamen Georgiev, Filipe Tavares-Cadete, Daniel Maticzka, Sarah Toscano, Yue Wan, Robert C. Spitale, Nicholas Luscombe, Rolf Backofen, Howard Y. Chang and Asifa Akhtar. "Tandem Stem-loops in roX RNAs Act Together to Mediate X Chromosome Dosage Compensation in Drosophila." Molecular Cell 51 (2013): 156-173.  
Kin Chung Lam, Friederike Mühlpfordt, Juan M. Vaquerizas, Sunil Jayaramaia Raja, Herbert Holz, Nicholas M. Luscombe, Thomas Manke and Asifa Akhtar. "The NSL Complex Regulates Housekeeping Genes in Drosophila." PLoS Genet 8 (2012): 27-36.  
Jop Kind, Juan M. Vaquerizas, Philipp Gebhardt, Marc Gentzel, Nicholas M. Luscombe, Paul Bertone and Asifa Akhtar. "Genome-wide Analysis Reveals MOF as a Key Regulator of Dosage Compensation and Gene Expression in Drosophila." Cell 133 (2008): 813-828.  
T. Aktas, İ. Avşar Ilik, D. Maticzka, V. Bhardwaj, C. Pessoa Rodrigues, G. Mittler, T. Manke, R. Backofen and A. Akhtar. "DHX9 Suppresses RNA Processing Defects Originating From the Alu Invasion of the Human Genome." Nature (2017): DOI: 10.1038/nature21715. doi:10.1038/nature21715.  

since 2015

Managing Director

Max Planck Society (more details)

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics

since 2013


Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics

Department of Chromatin Regulation


Max-Planck Investigator

Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics


Group Leader

European Molecular Biology Laboratory

Gene Expression Program


Postdoctoral Research Scientist

Adolf-Butendandt Institute

Department of Molecular Biology


Postdoctoral Research Scientist

European Molecular Biology Laboratory


PhD student

Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF)


Bachelor of Science

University College London

- Editor eLIFE (2012 - present)

- Editor PloS Genetics (2006 - present)

- Member of AAAS (American Society for the Advancement of Science) (2017 - present)

- Elected Member of the Intersectional Board of the Scientific Council of the Max Planck Society (2015 - present)

- External evaluator ERC grants (2014 - present)

- Elected member of Max Planck Perspective Committee (2014 - present)

- Elected EMBO member (2013)

- Vice spokesmen for IMPRS Graduate school, MPIIE, Freiburg (2009 - 2016)

- Member of the postdoctoral program evaluation panel, GRG, Barcelona (2009 - 2011)

- Member of EMBL Standing Advisory Committee (2006 - 2009)

- Member of EMBL Graduate Student Committee and EICATCommittee (2002 - 2009)


- Feldberg Prize (2017)

- Awarded FEBS National Lecture (2013)

- European Life Science Organization (ELSO) Early Career Award for significant contribution in the field (2008)

- Lilian Clarke Prieze (UCL) (1993)

- Joan-Hayesman Prize (UCL) (1993)

- Elizabeth Graham Hocart Prize (UCL) (1993)

- Cerificate of Merit (UCL) (1993)

- DFG: SFB 1140 (KIDGEM) (2015 - 2018)

- DFG: SFB 992 (Medical Epigenetics), co-speaker and board member (2012 - 2020)

- DFG: BIOSS 2 (2012 - 2017)

- DFG: SFB 746 (functional specificity by coupling and modification of proteins) (2011 - 2018)

- Co-Coordinator of the EU FP7 funded Network of Excellence “EpiGeneSys” (2010 - 2016)

- EU FP7 funded ITN “Nucleosome 4D” (2009 - 2012)

- Evaluator for EU FP6, FP7 programs (2005 - 2009)

- DFG: Transregio 5 (2005 - 2008)

- DFG: SPP1129 “Epigenetics” (2004 - 2008)

© Maximilian Dörrbecker

Max Planck Society

"The Max Planck Society is Germany's most successful research organization. Since its establishment in 1948, no fewer than 18 Nobel laureates have emerged from the ranks of its scientists, putting it on a par with the best and most prestigious research institutions worldwide. The more than 15,000 publications each year in internationally renowned scientific journals are proof of the outstanding research work conducted at Max Planck Institutes – and many of those articles are among the most-cited publications in the relevant field." (Source)


Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics

The Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics (MPI-IE) in Freiburg is an interdisciplinary research institution that conducts basic research in two key areas of modern biology. Immunobiology is concerned with the ways multicellular organisms defend themselves against pathogens. We study the evolutionary origins and the development of lymphoid organs and immune effector cells, the function of antigen receptors, and the genetic basis of host-pathogen interactions. This information underpins efforts to better diagnose and treat immunodeficiency and inflammatory diseases. 

Epigenetics is the study of inheritable traits that are not caused by changes in the underlying DNA sequence. Epigenetic mechanisms are crucial for the organization and utilization of our genetic information. Since the susceptibility to diseases can be promoted by epigenetic dysfunction, epigenetic research has far-reaching implications for diagnosis and therapy of human disease.The MPI-IE with its 372 employees currently hosts 17 research groups, which are supported by state-of-the-art scientific facilities. For the training of young scientists, we offer an international PhD program, the International Max Planck Research School for Molecular and Cellular Biology (IMPRS-MCB). (Source)


All cells in our bodies contain the same genetic information. Yet, these cells make up very different parts of the body like liver, heart, and eyes. This is achieved by expressing certain genes and inactivating others. The protein MOF is known to play an important role in this process: DNA does not flow freely in the cell nucleus but is packaged by histone proteins. There, MOF facilitates reading the genetic information encoded in the DNA by modifying the histones. ASIFA AKHTAR describes in this video how the researchers were surprised to find that, in mammals, MOF is not only present in the nucleus but also in the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell. To understand which role MOF plays in both locations, the team employed confocal microscopy, biochemistry and genetics to study the effect of removing the protein from the cell. Their findings indicate that MOF controls gene expression both in the nucleus and the mitochondria. This implicates a link between gene expression and metabolism control which might provide a new perspective on how changes in the environment that influence the metabolism can impinge on the expression of genes.

LT Video Publication DOI:

MOF Acetyl Transferase Regulates Transcription and Respiration in Mitochondria

  • Aindrila Chatterjee, Janine Seyfferth, Jacopo Lucci, Ralf Gilsbach, Sebastian Preissl, Lena Böttinger, Christoph U. Martensson, Amol Panhale, Thomas Stehle, Oliver Kretz and Asifa Akhtar
  • Cell
  • Published in 2016
Aindrila Chatterjee, Janine Seyfferth, Jacopo Lucci, Ralf Gilsbach, Sebastian Preissl, Lena Böttinger, Christoph U. Martensson, Amol Panhale, Thomas Stehle, Oliver Kretz and Asifa Akhtar. "MOF Acetyl Transferase Regulates Transcription and Respiration in Mitochondria." Cell 167 (2016): 722-738.