Dr. Emily M. Sontag

Dr. Emily Sontag
Dr. Emily M. SontagMarquette University

Wehr Life Sciences 209

MilwaukeeWI53201United States of America
(414) 288-7792

Assistant Professor

Protein misfolding and disease


B.S., 2005, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, IN

Ph.D., 2011, University of California, Irvine

Post-doctoral Fellow, 2013, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Research Interests

The Sontag Lab utilizes microscopy and biochemistry techniques to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying cellular stress responses to misfolded proteins and their role in disease. Neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s diseases), cancer, and even aging are all linked to protein misfolding. A major goal of the lab is to better understand how the cell responds to misfolded proteins, so that we can learn what goes wrong during disease and develop new therapeutic strategies to treat these disorders.


We are currently focused on studying neurodegenerative diseases. A common aspect of these disorders is misfolded proteins accumulating into large deposits within the brain. These deposits are formed when misfolded proteins are sequestered into membrane-less organelles or compartments.

Spatial protein quality control compartments in yeast.The function of these compartments is unknown, but an intriguing hypothesis is that they prevent aberrant protein interactions and facilitate clearance of protein aggregates by alternative pathways when the protein clearance machinery cannot keep up with the misfolded protein load. Misfolded protein sequestration into distinct compartments is conserved from yeast to mammals, indicating this mechanism of protein quality control is of critical importance for cell health and survival. We are currently utilizing yeast as a model system to understand the basic cell biology of protein quality control.



Figure 1. Spatial protein quality control compartments in yeast. 


We are working to answer 2 major questions:

  1.  How does spatial PQC fail in neurodegenerative diseases?
  2. How does the cell engage with PQC compartments via interactions with subcellular organelles?


We are looking for motivated students from all races, ethnicities, genders, and socio-economic status to join us in answering these questions and more!

Selected Publications

  1. Rolli S, Sontag EMSpatial sequestration of misfolded proteins in neurodegenerative diseases. Biochem Soc Trans. 2022 Apr 29;50(2):759-771. doi:10.1042/BST20210862. Review. PubMed PMID: 35311889.
  2. Wu GH, Mitchell PG, Galaz-Montoya JG, Hecksel CW, Sontag EM, Gangadharan V, Marshman J, Mankus D, Bisher ME, Lytton-Jean AKR, Frydman J, Czymmek K, Chiu W. Multi-scale 3D Cryo-Correlative Microscopy for Vitrified Cells. Structure. 2020 Nov 3;28(11):1231-1237.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.str.2020.07.017. Epub 2020 Aug 18. PubMed PMID: 32814034; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC764205
  3. Sontag EM*, Samant RS*, Frydman J. Mechanisms and functions of spatial protein quality control. Annual Review of Biochemistry. 2017; 86: 97-122. PMID: 28489421.
  4. Samant RS, Livingston CM, Sontag EM, and Frydman J. Distinct proteostasis circuits cooperate in nuclear and cytoplasmic protein quality control. 2018; 563: p. 407–411. PMID: 30429547.
  5. Sontag EM, Joachimiak L, Tan Z, Tomlinson A, Housman DE, Glabe CG, Potkin SG, Frydman J, Thompson LM. Exogenous Delivery of Purified Chaperonin Subunit Fragment ApiCCT1 Modulates Mutant Huntingtin Cellular Phenotypes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2013; 110 (8): p. 3077-3082. PMID: 23365139.
  6. Sontag EM, Lotz GP, Agrawal N, Tran A, Aron R, Yang G, Necula M, Lau A, Finkbeiner S, Glabe C, Marsh JL, Muchowski PJ, Thompson LM. Methylene Blue Modulates Huntingtin Aggregation Intermediates and Is Protective in Huntington’s Disease Models. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2012; 32 (32): p. 11109-11119. PMID: 22875942.


Sarah Rolli (Ph.D. student)
Chloe Langridge (Ph.D. student)

Dr. Sontag is currently accepting new Ph.D. students into her lab

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Department of Biological Sciences

Wehr Life Sciences, 109
1428 W. Clybourn St.
Milwaukee, WI 53233

(414) 288-7355

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