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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

Conserved structural motifs in the central pair complex of eukaryotic flagella.
Carbajal-González BI, Heuser T, Fu X, Lin J, Smith BW, Mitchell DR, Nicastro D Cytoskeleton (Hoboken) 2013 Feb 70 2 101-20
The CSC connects three major axonemal complexes involved in dynein regulation.
Heuser T, Dymek EE, Lin J, Smith EF, Nicastro D Mol. Biol. Cell 2012 Aug 23 16 3143-55
Cryoelectron tomography reveals doublet-specific structures and unique interactions in the I1 dynein.
Heuser T, Barber CF, Lin J, Krell J, Rebesco M, Porter ME, Nicastro D Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2012 Jul 109 30 E2067-76
The structural heterogeneity of radial spokes in cilia and flagella is conserved.
Lin J, Heuser T, Carbajal-González BI, Song K, Nicastro D Cytoskeleton (Hoboken) 2012 Feb 69 2 88-100
Reconfigurable self-assembly through chiral control of interfacial tension.
Gibaud T, Barry E, Zakhary MJ, Henglin M, Ward A, Yang Y, Berciu C, Oldenbourg R, Hagan MF, Nicastro D, Meyer RB, Dogic Z Nature 2012 Jan 481 7381 348-51
Three-dimensional structure of the radial spokes reveals heterogeneity and interactions with dyneins in Chlamydomonas flagella.
Barber CF, Heuser T, Carbajal-González BI, Botchkarev VV, Nicastro D Mol. Biol. Cell 2012 Jan 23 1 111-20
One of the nine doublet microtubules of eukaryotic flagella exhibits unique and partially conserved structures.
Lin J, Heuser T, Song K, Fu X, Nicastro D PLoS ONE 2012 7 10 e46494
Cryo-electron tomography reveals conserved features of doublet microtubules in flagella.
Nicastro D, Fu X, Heuser T, Tso A, Porter ME, Linck RW Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2011 Oct 108 42 E845-53
Building blocks of the nexin-dynein regulatory complex in Chlamydomonas flagella.
Lin J, Tritschler D, Song K, Barber CF, Cobb JS, Porter ME, Nicastro D J. Biol. Chem. 2011 Aug 286 33 29175-91
Cilia-like beating of active microtubule bundles.
Sanchez T, Welch D, Nicastro D, Dogic Z Science 2011 Jul 333 6041 456-9

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)