Chemistry Department
Headshot of Professor Colleen Connelly

Colleen Connelly

Job Title
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Wold Center 218
Department/Program:
Chemistry, Biochemistry

Research interests

Our research aims to interface organic chemistry and biology to investigate and manipulate RNA structure and function. Modern biology embraces an expanded role for RNA with diverse RNAs having broad functions in regulating gene expression and other biological processes. Furthermore, a large number of noncoding RNAs are associated with human diseases, providing a wealth of previously unrecognized targets for understanding and treating disease. Many of these RNAs adopt discrete structures that are important for their pivotal roles in biology. Often, RNA function can be attributed to its ability to undergo structural changes in response to cellular stimuli. Understanding the factors that modulate these changes is key to assessing the role that RNA structure plays in governing regulatory events. Our research program aims to probe RNA function by investigating and manipulating conformational changes in specific RNAs. In particular, we are exploring the role that alternative structures play in the processing of microRNAs (miRNAs), a class of gene regulators that have been implicated in cancer, cardiovascular disease, and immune disorders.

In addition to their effects on biological function, structures in RNA are attractive targets for organic molecules. Despite the development of powerful techniques to analyze RNA structure and function, our ability to develop probes that bind to and perturb the function of RNA lags behind. Our group further aims to identify chemical probes for specific RNAs in order to answer questions about how structure affects their roles in disease. Specifically, we are exploring the ability of small molecules to modulate the structure and processing of precursor microRNAs to further understand their regulation in cancer. Through these projects, students in my lab will have the opportunity to explore multidisciplinary research combining biochemistry, organic chemistry, molecular biology, and biophysical techniques.

Teaching interests

CHM 231 Organic Chemistry I

CHM 231 Organic Chemistry I Lab

CHM 232 Organic Chemistry II Lab

Additional media

Academic credentials

B.S., University of North Carolina Wilmington; Ph.D., North Carolina State University; Postdoctoral Fellow, National Cancer Institute