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Senior Investigator

Medical Genomics and Metabolic Genetics Branch


Molecular Genetics Section


B.S. University of Virginia, 1970

Ph.D. Yale University, 1974

M.D. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1977


Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., is Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In that role he oversees the work of the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spanning the spectrum from basic to clinical research.

Dr. Collins is a physician-geneticist noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the international Human Genome Project, which culminated in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. He served as director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the NIH from 1993-2008.

Dr. Collins' research laboratory has discovered a number of important genes, including those responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington's disease, a familial endocrine cancer syndrome, and most recently, genes for type 2 diabetes, and the gene that causes Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a rare condition that causes premature aging.

Dr. Collins received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Virginia, a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Yale University, and an M.D. with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to coming to the NIH in 1993, he spent nine years on the faculty of the University of Michigan, where he was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. He is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Collins was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007 and the National Medal of Science in 2009.

Scientific Summary

Dr. Collins' laboratory seeks to identify and understand the function of genes involved in a range of human diseases, both rare and common, with the ultimate goal of identifying new therapeutic opportunities.

One of the lab's significant projects focuses on Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS), a rare genetic disorder characterized by premature aging. HGPS patients typically die from cardiovascular complications in their teens. Dr. Collins' group discovered that a point mutation in the lamin A gene (LMNA) activates a cryptic splice donor, resulting in shortening of the normal version of the encoded protein by 50 amino acids near the C-terminus - this protein has been named "progerin". They also found that HGPS is associated with significant changes in the shape of the nucleus, these structural defects worsen as HGPS cells age in culture, and introducing progerin into normal cells induces the same changes. Cellular biological analysis implicates progerin in disrupting the normal process of mitosis. Investigation of normal human fibroblasts has demonstrated small amounts of progerin are present in normal cell populations, and increase in quantity as cells approach senescence. The shift in the LMNA splicing pattern to produce progerin is apparently triggered by shortened telomeres. Thus, the study of this rare disease potentially gives valuable insight into the process of normal aging

The lamin A protein is normally farnesylated at its C-terminus, which apparently helps target the prelamin to the inner surface of the nuclear membrane. 

A subsequent protease cleavage releases this C-terminal fragment, allowing lamin A to join other proteins in the scaffold that lies just under the nuclear membrane. Progerin is correctly farnesylated, but cannot be cleaved, rendering it permanently anchored in the nuclear membrane, sequestering other proteins and functioning as a dominant negative. These observations led to the hypothesis that farnesyltransferase inhibitors (FTIs) might be beneficial in treatment of progeria, and cell culture experiments showed that FTIs could significantly ameliorate the nuclear-shape abnormalities seen in HGPS cells.

Because most progeria patients are in extremely fragile health, there are few opportunities to conduct human trials of potential therapies. Dr. Collins' group developed an animal model of progeria by reengineering human LMNA to carry the HGPS mutation, and inserting it into the germline of a mouse. The mouse demonstrates progressive cardiovascular disease that closely resembles the disease seen in HGPS patients. Specifically, these mice exhibit progressive loss of vascular smooth muscle cells in the media of their large arteries. Using the mouse model as a resource for screening potential therapies, the Collins laboratory demonstrated that FTI treatment not only prevented the onset of cardiovascular disease in young mice but also reduced the progression of the cardiovascular defects upon treatment of older mice. This research complemented other data in support of a clinical trial administering FTIs to HGPS patients, which has recently been shown to result in improved cardiovascular status.

More recent work on the HGPS project includes the discovery that rapamycin may be beneficial by stimulating autophagic removal of progerin complexes. The lab is also engaged in a long-term effort to generate a mouse that cannot produce progerin at all, in order to determine whether the absence results in increased longevity.

The other major project in the Collins laboratory is the complex, common, non-Mendelian condition known as type 2 diabetes (T2D). In long-term cooperation with researchers at the Finnish National Public Health Institute, the University of Michigan, the University of Southern California, and the University of North Carolina known as the FUSION project, Dr. Collins and his collaborators are studying over 30,000 individuals to identify susceptibility factors for T2D. The FUSION project began with linkage studies of affected sib pairs, and then moved on to perform genome-wide association studies (GWAS), and has subsequently become an integral part in several worldwide GWAS consortia studying T2D and quantitative traits. To date, these consortia have identified over 80 susceptibility loci for T2D and hundreds of loci affecting glucose, BMI, and lipid quantitative traits.

Many of these variants are associated with impaired insulin secretion or processing, and the vast majority reside in noncoding portions of the genome. These data suggest that altered regulatory function in the pancreatic islet may play an important role in T2D pathophysiology. Using ChIP-seq technology, the Collins lab has defined major features of the human islet epigenome, identifying regulatory elements that are necessary for normal islet function. Of great interest, T2D-susceptibility alleles identified by GWAS are found to lie preferentially in islet-specific enhancers, particularly in multi-kilobase tissue-specific enhancers that the lab has named "stretch enhancers".

A major new project of the FUSION study is to analyze genotypes (by whole genome sequencing), DNA methylation (by bisulfite sequencing), gene expression (by RNA-seq), and phenotypes on more than 300 individuals with a range of metabolic states, from whom muscle and adipose biopsies have been obtained. Characterizing the entire repertoire of human functional genomic elements in islets, muscle, and adipose should provide critical insight into the molecular mechanisms involved in diabetes susceptibility.


Collins FS, Metherall JE, Yamakawa J, Pan J, Weissman SM, Forget BG. A point mutation in the A gamma- globin gene promoter in Greek hereditary persistence of fetal haemoglobin. Nature, 313:325-326. 1985. [PubMed]

Collins FS, Drumm ML, Cole JL, Lockwood WK, Vande Woude GF, Iannuzzi MC. Construction of a general human chromosome jumping library, with application to cystic fibrosis. Science, 235, 1046-1049. 1987. [PubMed]

Fountain JW, Wallace MR, Bruce MA, Seizinger BR, Menon AG, Gusella JF, Michels VV, Schmidt MA, Dewald GW, Collins FS. Physical mapping of a translocation breakpoint in neurofibromatosis. Science, 244, 1085-1087. 1989. [PubMed]

Rommens JM, Iannuzzi MC, Kerem B, Drumm ML, Melmer G, Dean M, Rozmahel R, Cole JL, Kennedy D, Hidaka N, Zsiga M, Buchwald M, Riordan JR, Tsui L-C, Collins FS. Identification of the cystic fibrosis gene: chromosome walking and jumping. Science, 245:1059-65. 1989. [PubMed]

Wallace MR, Marchuk DA, Andersen LB, Letcher R, Odeh HM, Saulino AM, Fountain JW, Brereton A, Nicholson J, Mitchell AL, Collins FS. Type 1 neurofibromatosis gene: identification of a large transcript disrupted in three NF1 patients. Science, 249:181-186. 1990. [PubMed]

Ballester R, Marchuk D, Boguski M, Saulino A, Letcher R, Wigler M, Collins FS. The NF1 locus encodes a protein functionally related to mammalian GAP and yeast IRA proteins. Cell, 63, 851-859. 1990. [PubMed]

Liu P, Tarle SA, Hajra A, Claxton DF, Marlton P, Freedman M, Siciliano MJ, Collins FS. Fusion between transcription factor CBF beta/PEBP2 beta and a myosin heavy chain in acute myeloid leukemia. Science, 261, 1041-1044. 1993. [PubMed]

The Huntington's Disease Collaborative Research Group. A novel gene containing a trinucleotide repeat that is expanded and unstable on Huntington's disease chromosomes. Cell, 72:971-983. 1993. [PubMed]

Savitsky K, Bar-Shira A, Gilad S, Rotman G, Ziv Y, Vanagaite L, Tagle DA, Smith S, Uziel T, Sfez S, Ashkenazi M, Pecker I, Frydman M, Harnik R, Patanjali SR, Simmons A, Clines GA, Sartiel A, Gatti RA, Chesa L, Sanal O, Lavin MF, Jaspers NGJ, Taylor AMR, Arlett CF, Miki T, Weissman SM, Lovett M, Collins FS, Shiloh Y. A single ataxia telangiectasia gene with a product similar to PI-3 kinase. Science, 268, 1749-1753. 1995. [PubMed]

Oda T, Elkahloun AG, Pike BL, Okajima K, Krantz ID, Genin A, Piccoli DA, Meltzer PS, Spinner NB, Collins FS, Chandrasekharappa SC. Mutations in the human Jagged 1 gene are responsible for Alagille syndrome. Nat Genet, 16:235-242. 1997. [PubMed]

Eriksson M., Brown W.T., Gordon L.B., Glynn M.W., Singer J., Scott L., Erd M.R., Robbins C.M., Moses T.Y., Berglund P., Dutra A., Pak E., Durkin S., Csoka A.B., Boehnke M., Glover T.W., Collins F.S. Recurrent de novo point mutations in lamin A cause Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome. Nature, 423(6937):293-8. 2003. [PubMed]

Scott LJ, Mohlke KL, Bonnycastle LL, Willer CJ, Li Y, Duren WL, Erdos MR, Stringham HM, Chines PS, Jackson AU, Prokunina-Olsson L, Ding CJ, Swift AJ, Narisu N, Hu T, Pruim R, Xiao R, Li XY, Conneely KN, Riebow NL, Sprau AG, Tong M, White PP, Hetrick KN, Barnhart MW, Bark CW, Goldstein JL, Watkins L, Xiang F, Saramies J, Buchanan TA, Watanabe RM, Valle TT, Kinnunen L, Abecasis GR, Pugh EW, Doheny KF, Bergman RN, Tuomilehto J, Collins FS, Boehnke M. A genome-wide association study of type 2 diabetes in Finns detects multiple susceptibility variants. Science, 316:1341-1345. 2007. [PubMed]

Capell BC, Olive M, Erdos MR, Cao K, Faddah DA, Tavarez UL, Conneely KN, Qu X, San H, Ganesh SK, Chen X, Avallone H, Kolodgie FD, Virmani R, Nabel EG, Collins FS. A farnesyltransferase inhibitor prevents both the onset and late progression of cardiovascular disease in a progeria mouse model. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 105:15902-7. 2008. [PubMed]

Stitzel ML, Sethupathy P, Pearson DS, Chines PS, Song L, Erdos MR, Welch R, Parker SC, Boyle AP, Scott LJ, NISC Comparative Sequencing Program, Margulies EH, Boehnke M, Furey TS, Crawford GE, Collins FS. Global epigenomics analysis of primary human pancreatic islets provides insights into type 2 diabetes susceptibility loci. Cell Metabolism, 12:443-55. 2010. [PubMed]

Cao K, Blair CD, Faddah DA, Kieckhaefer JE, Olive M, Erdos MR, Nabel EG, Collins FS. Progerin and telomere dysfunction collaborate to trigger cellular senescence in normal human fibroblasts. J Clin. Invest, 121, 2833-44. 2011. [PubMed]

Cao K, Graziotto JJ, Blair CD, Mazzulli JR, Erdos MR, Krainc D, Collins FS. Rapamycin reverses cellular phenotypes and enhances mutant protein clearance in Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome cells. Sci Transl Med, 3:89ra58. 2011. [PubMed]

Rees MG, Ng D, Ruppert S, Turner C, Beer NL, Swift AJ, Morken MA, Below JE, Blech I; NISC Comparative Sequencing Program, Mullikin JC, McCarthy MI, Biesecker LG, Gloyn AL, Collins FS. Correlation of rare coding variants in the gene encoding human glucokinase regulatory protein with phenotypic, cellular, and kinetic outcomes. J Clin Invest, 122:205-217. 2012. [PubMed]

Bonnycastle LL, Chines PS, Hara T, Huyghe JR, Swift AJ, Heikinheimo P, Mahadevan J, Peltonen S, Huopio H, Nuutila P, Narisu N, Goldfeder RJ, Stitzel ML, Lu S, Boehnke M, Urano F, Collins FS, Laakso M. Autosomal dominant diabetes arising from a Wolfram syndrome 1 mutation. Diabetes, 62:3943-50. 2013. [PubMed]

Parker SC, Stitzel ML, Taylor DL, Orozco JM, Erdos MR, Akiyama JA, van Bueren KL, Chines PS, Narisu N; NISC Comparative Sequencing Program, Black BL, Visel A, Pennacchio LA, Collins FS; National Institutes of Health Intramural Sequencing Center Comparative Sequencing Program Authors; NISC Comparative Sequencing Program Authors. Chromatin stretch enhancer states drive cell-specific gene regulation and harbor human disease risk variants. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 110:17921-17926. 2013. [PubMed]

Guttmacher,Alan E, Collins, Francis S., Drazen, Jeffrey M. eds. Forward by Elias Zerhouni, M.D. Genomic Medicine: Articles from the New England Journal of Medicine. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Gelehrter, Thomas D., Collins, Francis S., Ginsberg, David. Principles of Medical Genetics, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1998.

Molecular Genetics Section Research Group

Generic Profile Photo
Idowu A. Aimola, Ph.D.
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow
  • Molecular Genetics Section
Lori Bonnycastle
Lori Bonnycastle, Ph.D.
  • Staff Scientist
  • Molecular Genetics Section
Wayne Cabral
Wayne Cabral, Ph.D.
  • Biologist
  • Molecular Genetics Section
Mike Erdos
Mike Erdos, Ph.D.
  • Staff Scientist
  • Molecular Genetics Section
Narisu Narisu
Narisu Narisu, Ph.D.
  • Bioinformatics Scientist
  • Molecular Genetics Section
Amy Swift
Amy Swift, M.S.
  • Biologist
  • Molecular Genetics Section
Ut Tavarez
Urraca Tavarez, RLATg
  • Animal Researcher
  • Molecular Genetics Section
Generic Profile Photo
Tingfen Yan, Ph.D.
  • Programmer
  • Molecular Genetics Section

Last updated: September 25, 2015