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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

The CSC is required for complete radial spoke assembly and wild-type ciliary motility.
Dymek EE, Heuser T, Nicastro D, Smith EF Mol. Biol. Cell 2011 Jul 22 14 2520-31
Sas-4 provides a scaffold for cytoplasmic complexes and tethers them in a centrosome.
Gopalakrishnan J, Mennella V, Blachon S, Zhai B, Smith AH, Megraw TL, Nicastro D, Gygi SP, Agard DA, Avidor-Reiss T Nat Commun 2011 2 359
Arrangement of photosystem II and ATP synthase in chloroplast membranes of spinach and pea.
Daum B, Nicastro D, Austin J, McIntosh JR, K├╝hlbrandt W Plant Cell 2010 Apr 22 4 1299-312
Kinesin-8 from fission yeast: a heterodimeric, plus-end-directed motor that can couple microtubule depolymerization to cargo movement.
Grissom PM, Fiedler T, Grishchuk EL, Nicastro D, West RR, McIntosh JR Mol. Biol. Cell 2009 Feb 20 3 963-72
Cryo-electron microscope tomography to study axonemal organization.
Nicastro D Methods Cell Biol. 2009 91 1-39
Drosophila asterless and vertebrate Cep152 Are orthologs essential for centriole duplication.
Blachon S, Gopalakrishnan J, Omori Y, Polyanovsky A, Church A, Nicastro D, Malicki J, Avidor-Reiss T Genetics 2008 Dec 180 4 2081-94
The structural basis of actin filament branching by the Arp2/3 complex.
Rouiller I, Xu XP, Amann KJ, Egile C, Nickell S, Nicastro D, Li R, Pollard TD, Volkmann N, Hanein D J. Cell Biol. 2008 Mar 180 5 887-95
Single particle cryoelectron tomography characterization of the structure and structural variability of poliovirus-receptor-membrane complex at 30 A resolution.
Bostina M, Bubeck D, Schwartz C, Nicastro D, Filman DJ, Hogle JM J. Struct. Biol. 2007 Nov 160 2 200-10
Cryo-fluorescence microscopy facilitates correlations between light and cryo-electron microscopy and reduces the rate of photobleaching.
Schwartz CL, Sarbash VI, Ataullakhanov FI, McIntosh JR, Nicastro D J Microsc 2007 Aug 227 Pt 2 98-109
Electron microscopy of microtubule-based cytoskeletal machinery.
Hoenger A, Nicastro D Methods Cell Biol. 2007 79 437-62

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)