Randal J. Kaufman, Ph.D.

Randal J. Kaufman's Research Focus

Protein Misfolding, The Unfolded Protein Response
Type 2 Diabetes, Liver Diseases

The Kaufman lab is focused on understanding the fundamental mechanisms that regulate protein folding and the cellular responses to the accumulation of unfolded/misfolded proteins within the Endoplasmic Reticulum (ER). When proteins fail to fold correctly, they don’t work properly. More importantly, misfolded proteins accumulate with age and cause cellular toxicity, leading to almost every disease associated with aging. In many degenerative diseases, including neurological, metabolic, genetic, and inflammatory diseases, it’s thought that the accumulation of misfolded proteins leads to cellular dysfunction and death. 

Dr. Kaufman’s research has focused for more than 30 years on mechanisms that regulate proper protein folding in the ER; this work contributed to the discovery of the UPR in the mid 1980s. The UPR pathways, mediated by PERK, IRE1, and ATF6, coordinate primarily an adaptive response. More recently, his research has focused on molecular mechanisms that establish the apoptotic program in response to protein misfolding in the ER, studies that have shed light on the mechanism by which cancer cells survive in a stressful environment.

Randal J. Kaufman's Research Report

The major portion of our research is aimed at elucidating fundamental mechanisms that regulate protein folding and the cellular responses to the accumulation of unfolded protein within the (ER). Research into the fundamental processes that regulate protein synthesis and folding within the ER should have impact on the understanding of genetic diseases that result from protein folding defects.

Accumulation of unfolded/misfolded proteins within the ER induces an adaptive stress response known as the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR). The UPR signal is transduced from the ER lumen to cytoplasm and nucleus by three transmembrane proteins IRE1, ATF6, and PERK. UPR activation induces the expression of a family of basic leucine zipper-containing transcription factors that activate transcription of genes encoding functions to reduce the protein-folding load and increase the protein folding capacity of the ER. IRE1 is a serine/threonine protein kinase and endoribonuclease that signals transcriptional activation by initiating a novel splicing reaction on the mRNA encoding the transcription factor XBP1. UPR activation promotes trafficking of ATF6 from the ER to the Golgi where it is processed to yield a cytosolic fragment that is a potent transcriptional activator. In addition, the protein kinase PERK signals translational attenuation through phosphorylation of the alpha subunit of the eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 (eIF2a) on serine residue 51. This phosphorylation attenuates translation of most cellular mRNAs but selectively induces translation of the transcription factor ATF4. We demonstrated that PERK/eIF2a signaling is essential for glucose-regulated insulin production by pancreatic beta cells, where defects in this pathway result in beta cell dysfunction and diabetes. The findings demonstrate an unprecedented link between glucose metabolism, mRNA translation, and protein folding and have implication in the treatment of diabetes. Future studies directed to elucidate the molecular logic for the UPR adaptive response will provide fundamental insight into numerous pathological conditions such as viral infection, cancer, inflammation, metabolic disease and atherosclerosis, and protein folding diseases such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Randal J. Kaufman's Bio

Dr. Randal Kaufman previously served as professor of Biological Chemistry and Internal Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute investigator at the University of Michigan Medical School. He received his Ph.D. in pharmacology from Stanford University, where he studied gene amplification as a mechanism by which cells become resistant to anticancer agents. He was a Helen Hay Whitney fellow with Nobel Laureate Dr. Phillip Sharp at the Center for Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), where he developed gene transfer technologies based on gene amplification and expression in mammalian cells. He did his postdoctoral work at the Center for Cancer Research at M.I.T. In the 1980s, Dr. Kaufman’s experience with gene transfer and engineering led him to become a founding scientist at Genetics Institute Inc., where he engineered mammalian cells for high-level expression of therapeutic proteins, such as clotting factors that are now used to treat individuals with hemophilia. Dr. Kaufman joined Sanford-Burnham in 2011.


  • Postdoctoral, Center for Cancer Research, M.I.T.
  • Ph.D., Stanford University
  • B.A., University of Colorado

Other appointments

  • 7/2011 - Present Adjunct Professor, Department of Biological Chemistry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

Honors and recognition

  • 2006: AAAS Fellow
  • 2000: Distinguished Investigator Award-MI Hemophilia Society
  • 1999: Investigator Recognition Award, International Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis
  • 1998: International Association Francaise Des Hemophiles Award
  • 1993: Dr. Murray Thelin Award

Differentiation of neural stem cells


Complementary cell-based high-throughput screens identify novel modulators of the unfolded protein response.

Fribley AM, Cruz PG, Miller JR, Callaghan MU, Cai P, Narula N, Neubig RR, Showalter HD, Larsen SD, Kirchhoff PD, Larsen MJ, Burr DA, Schultz PJ, Jacobs RR, Tamayo-Castillo G, Ron D, Sherman DH, Kaufman RJ

J Biomol Screen 2011 Sep ;16(8):825-35

iRhoms: ERADicating the messenger in growth control signaling.

Cao SS, Kaufman RJ

Dev Cell 2011 Apr 19 ;20(4):414-6

The unfolded protein response transducer IRE1α prevents ER stress-induced hepatic steatosis.

Zhang K, Wang S, Malhotra J, Hassler JR, Back SH, Wang G, Chang L, Xu W, Miao H, Leonardi R, Chen YE, Jackowski S, Kaufman RJ

EMBO J 2011 Apr 6 ;30(7):1357-75

Show All Select Publications

Defects in Protein Folding and/or Quality Control Cause Protein Aggregation in the Endoplasmic Reticulum.

Poothong J, Jang I, Kaufman RJ

Prog Mol Subcell Biol 2021 ;59:115-143

Calcineurin Activity Is Increased in Charcot-Marie-Tooth 1B Demyelinating Neuropathy.

Sidoli M, Reed CB, Scapin C, Paez P, Cavener DR, Kaufman RJ, D'Antonio M, Feltri ML, Wrabetz L

J Neurosci 2021 May 19 ;41(20):4536-4548

Normal and defective pathways in biogenesis and maintenance of the insulin storage pool.

Liu M, Huang Y, Xu X, Li X, Alam M, Arunagiri A, Haataja L, Ding L, Wang S, Itkin-Ansari P, Kaufman RJ, Tsai B, Qi L, Arvan P

J Clin Invest 2021 Jan 19 ;131(2)

Maternal immune activation in mice disrupts proteostasis in the fetal brain.

Kalish BT, Kim E, Finander B, Duffy EE, Kim H, Gilman CK, Yim YS, Tong L, Kaufman RJ, Griffith EC, Choi GB, Greenberg ME, Huh JR

Nat Neurosci 2021 Feb ;24(2):204-213

eIF2α controls memory consolidation via excitatory and somatostatin neurons.

Sharma V, Sood R, Khlaifia A, Eslamizade MJ, Hung TY, Lou D, Asgarihafshejani A, Lalzar M, Kiniry SJ, Stokes MP, Cohen N, Nelson AJ, Abell K, Possemato AP, Gal-Ben-Ari S, Truong VT, Wang P, Yiannakas A, Saffarzadeh F, Cuello AC, Nader K, Kaufman RJ, Costa-Mattioli M, Baranov PV, Quintana A, Sanz E, Khoutorsky A, Lacaille JC, Rosenblum K, Sonenberg N

Nature 2020 Oct ;586(7829):412-416

Phosphorylation of eIF2α Promotes Schwann Cell Differentiation and Myelination in CMT1B Mice with Activated UPR.

Scapin C, Ferri C, Pettinato E, Bianchi F, Del Carro U, Feltri ML, Kaufman RJ, Wrabetz L, D'Antonio M

J Neurosci 2020 Oct 14 ;40(42):8174-8187

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