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Daniela Nicastro, M.S., Ph.D., is a structural cell biologist with almost 25 years of experience in electron microscopy of cellular structures. Driven by important biological questions, she develops and applies innovative imaging techniques that allow visualizing the 3D structures of native macromolecular machines and organelles inside cells with a resolution that is sufficiently high to accomplish goals such as detecting structural changes between conformational states. This is important for understanding how proteins interact, work, and are spatially arranged to perform normal cellular functions, and how their dysfunction leads to diseases.

Dr. Nicastro was born and raised in Germany, where she obtained her M.S. (1995) and Ph.D. (2000) in Biology from the Ludwig-Maximilians University (Munich, Germany), studying sensory neurons of insects. In parallel to her thesis study at the University, Dr. Nicastro also joined the Max-Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Munich from 1998-2001, where she transitioned technically from classical electron microscopy of chemically-fixed insect tissues to cellular cryo-electron tomography, a three-dimensional electron microscopy method that provides images of life-like preserved (rapidly frozen), sub-cellular structures at molecular resolution. She then continued here research career in the U.S., 2001-2006 as postdoctoral fellow in the National Center for Research Resources for 3D Electron Microscopy of Cells at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and since 2006 as Assistant Professor and later as tenured Associate Professor (since 2013) in the Biology Department at Brandeis University near Boston. The Nicastro lab has made important contributions both technically and biologically, e.g. by advancing cryo-electron microscopy methods to image cellular structures at higher resolution, by taking a multi-length scale approach from studying intact tissues to small molecular motors, and by applying cryo-electron tomography for the first time to samples from patients (with ciliary disease).

In 2015, Dr. Nicastro joined the Departments of Cell Biology and Biophysics at UT Southwestern Medical Center, where she played a key role in building a new state-of-the art cryo-electron microscopy facility. She is also expanding her research program in the rapidly growing area of cryo-electron microscopy; one new focus will be the visualization of native, dynamic DNA-interacting complexes inside normal and cancerous cells, which will provide unique views of nuclear machines and events that are highly relevant to a better understanding of cancer initiation, promotion, progression, and/or treatment.


Graduate School
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat (1995), Biology
Graduate School
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat (2000), Biology

Research Interest

  • Study the 3D structures and biological functions of native macromolecular complexes inside cells (e.g. dyneins and microtubules in cilia, or DNA-binding complexes)


Featured Publications LegendFeatured Publications

In situ localization of N and C termini of subunits of the flagellar nexin-dynein regulatory complex (N-DRC) using SNAP tag and cryo-electron tomography.
Song K, Awata J, Tritschler D, Bower R, Witman GB, Porter ME, Nicastro D J. Biol. Chem. 2015 Feb 290 9 5341-53
FAP206 is a microtubule-docking adapter for ciliary radial spoke 2 and dynein c.
Vasudevan KK, Song K, Alford LM, Sale WS, Dymek EE, Smith EF, Hennessey T, Joachimiak E, Urbanska P, Wloga D, Dentler W, Nicastro D, Gaertig J Mol. Biol. Cell 2015 Feb 26 4 696-710
Structural correlates of rotavirus cell entry.
Abdelhakim AH, Salgado EN, Fu X, Pasham M, Nicastro D, Kirchhausen T, Harrison SC PLoS Pathog. 2014 Sep 10 9 e1004355
Robust excitons inhabit soft supramolecular nanotubes.
Eisele DM, Arias DH, Fu X, Bloemsma EA, Steiner CP, Jensen RA, Rebentrost P, Eisele H, Tokmakoff A, Lloyd S, Nelson KA, Nicastro D, Knoester J, Bawendi MG Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2014 Aug 111 33 E3367-75
Insights into the structure and function of ciliary and flagellar doublet microtubules: tektins, Ca2+-binding proteins, and stable protofilaments.
Linck R, Fu X, Lin J, Ouch C, Schefter A, Steffen W, Warren P, Nicastro D J. Biol. Chem. 2014 Jun 289 25 17427-44
Critical roles for multiple formins during cardiac myofibril development and repair.
Rosado M, Barber CF, Berciu C, Feldman S, Birren SJ, Nicastro D, Goode BL Mol. Biol. Cell 2014 Mar 25 6 811-27
Membrane deformation and scission by the HSV-1 nuclear egress complex.
Bigalke JM, Heuser T, Nicastro D, Heldwein EE Nat Commun 2014 5 4131
Probing nanoscale self-assembly of nonfluorescent small molecules inside live mammalian cells.
Gao Y, Berciu C, Kuang Y, Shi J, Nicastro D, Xu B ACS Nano 2013 Oct 7 10 9055-63
Formation of membrane ridges and scallops by the F-BAR protein Nervous Wreck.
Becalska AN, Kelley CF, Berciu C, Stanishneva-Konovalova TB, Fu X, Wang S, Sokolova OS, Nicastro D, Rodal AA Mol. Biol. Cell 2013 Aug 24 15 2406-18
The MIA complex is a conserved and novel dynein regulator essential for normal ciliary motility.
Yamamoto R, Song K, Yanagisawa HA, Fox L, Yagi T, Wirschell M, Hirono M, Kamiya R, Nicastro D, Sale WS J. Cell Biol. 2013 Apr 201 2 263-78

Honors & Awards

  • Alberta Gotthardt and Henry Strage Award for Aspiring Young Science Faculty
    Brandeis University (2008)
  • Research Excellence Award
    WM Keck Foundation (2008)
  • Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences
    Pew Foundation (2007-2011)
  • Postdoctoral scholarship
    Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Germany (2000-2001)
  • Graduate scholarship
    Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Germany (1998-2000)
  • Graduate scholarship for Junior Scientists and Artists
    Bavarian Government, Germany (1996-1998)