Anna-Lena Steckelberg, PhD

  • Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics
Profile Headshot


Anna-Lena (Lena) Steckelberg is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University. She received a PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany, were she studied RNA-protein interactions that regulate cellular RNA quality control in laboratory of Professor Niels Gehring. Her graduate work identified the first direct molecular link between the splicing machinery and the exon-junction complex, an important regulator of post-transcriptional mRNA fate. As a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Professor Jeffrey Kieft at the University of Colorado, she continued to study RNA-protein interactions, focusing on the structure, function and dynamics of viral RNAs that manipulate the cellular RNA decay machinery. Her postdoctoral work identified and structurally characterized a new class of viral RNA elements that resist degradation by cellular exoribonucleases, leading to the production of viral subgenomic RNAs. Lena continues to be fascinated by the elegant strategies employed by viruses to hijack cellular RNA metabolism and strives to deepen our molecular understanding of RNA-protein interactions at the host-virus interface.

Academic Appointments

  • Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics


  • Female

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • MS, 2009 Molecular Medicine, Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg, Germany
  • PhD, 2014 Genetics, University of Cologne, Germany

Honors & Awards

  • DFG Postdoctoral Fellowship (2017 - 2019)
  • EMBO Long-Term Fellowship (2015 – 2017)
  • Graduated summa cum laude, 2014 University of Cologne
  • IGSDHD Graduate Training Fellowship, 2010-2013


Our lab is interested in understanding how viruses manipulate gene expression in infected cells. As obligate intracellular parasites, viruses rely on the cellular gene expression machinery for replication; consequently, the abilities of virus and host cell to control gene expression play critical roles during the establishment of viral infection. Many viruses have evolved elegant strategies to co-opt and manipulate cellular processes for their own benefit, but conversely, eukaryotic cells use specialized branches of gene expression pathways to respond to and eradicate viruses. In the Steckelberg lab, we combine biochemical, structural (x-ray crystallography and cryoEM) and cell biological methods to study the molecular interactions that regulate gene expression during infection with RNA viruses of the flaviviridae and coronaviridae families. Studying how viruses hijack cellular processes provides insight into the life cycle of important human pathogens but also expands our understanding of the cellular machinery itself. By studying RNA-protein interactions at the host-virus interface we thus strive to deconstruct molecular networks that regulate gene expression in human cells.

Visit our website to learn more.

Selected Publications

Jones RA, Steckelberg AL, Vicens Q, Szucs MJ, Akiyama BM, Kieft JS. “Different tertiary interactions create the same important 3-D features in a distinct flavivirus xrRNA.” RNA 2020 Oct 1;rna.077065.120

Steckelberg AL*, Vicens Q*, Costantino DA, Nix JC, Kieft JS. “The crystal structure of a Polerovirus exoribonuclease-resistant RNA shows how diverse sequences are integrated into a conserved fold.” RNA 2020 Aug 26;rna.076224.120

Steckelberg AL*, Vicens Q*, Kieft JS. “Exoribonuclease-Resistant RNAs Exist within both Coding and Noncoding Subgenomic RNAs.” mBio. 2018 Dec 18;9(6):e02461-18.

Boehm V, Britto-Borges T, Steckelberg AL, Singh KK, Gerbracht JV, Gueney E, Blazquez L, Altmüller J, Dieterich C, Gehring NH. “Exon junction complexes suppress spurious splice sites to safeguard transcriptome integrity” Mol Cell. 2018 Nov 1;72(3):482-495

Steckelberg AL, Akiyama BM, Costantino DA, Sit TL, Nix JC, Kieft JS. "A folded viral noncoding RNA blocks host cell exoribonucleases through a conformationally dynamic RNA structure." Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2018 Jun 19;115(25):6404-6409

Gromadzka AM, Steckelberg AL, Singh KK, Hofmann K, Gehring NH. “A short conserved motif in ALYREF directs cap- and EJC-dependent assembly of export complexes on spliced mRNAs.” Nucleic Acids Res. 2016 Mar 18;44(5):2348-61

Steckelberg AL, Altmueller J, Dieterich C, Gehring NH. “CWC22-dependent pre-mRNA splicing and eIF4A3 binding enables global deposition of exon junction complexes.” Nucleic Acids Res. 2015 May 19;43(9):4687-700

Steckelberg AL, Gehring NH. “Studying the composition of mRNPs in vitro using splicing-competent cell extracts.” Methods. 2014 Feb;65(3):342-9

Burgute BD, Peche VS, Steckelberg AL, Glöckner G, Gaßen B, Gehring NH, Noegel AA. “NKAP is a novel RS-related protein that interacts with RNA and RNA binding proteins.” Nucleic Acids Res. 2014 Mar;42(5):3177-93

Steckelberg AL, Boehm V, Gromadzka AM, Gehring NH. “CWC22 connects pre-mRNA splicing and exon junction complex assembly.” Cell Rep. 2012 Sep 27;2(3):454-61