Welcome to the Van Bortle Lab

Our group combines biochemical, molecular and genomic approaches to investigate RNA polymerase III (Pol III) transcription dynamics and mechanisms and pathways that regulate Pol III. We are probing the full extent of Pol III transcription, its dynamic, context-specific activities during development, and the regulatory factors and molecular events that modulate Pol III activity. We are also pursuing the functional activities of specific, cancer-associated small ncRNA expressed by Pol III with the overarching goal of understanding how Pol III contributes to cancer growth and metastasis. 


Our genes are expressed by three DNA-dependent RNA polymerase machineries, Pol I, Pol II, and Pol III. RNA polymerase III (Pol III) is unique in that it exclusively transcribes genes encoding small noncoding RNA (ncRNA), many of which are critical for cell growth and proliferation. Upregulation of Pol III activity and specific small ncRNA are hallmarks of cancer. Currently, a mechanistic understanding of the events that give rise to Pol III overactivity and the downstream functions of multiple cancer-associated small RNA species remains lacking.

The Pol III apparatus itself is unique in multiple respects, including the fact that Pol III switches its "identity" by replacing a single subunit during mammalian development. We have recently found that one form of Pol III, which re-emerges in many cancer types and is associated with poor survival outcomes, promotes the expression of specific small ncRNA implicated in cancer growth and metastasis. We are investigating the mechanisms underlying Pol III identity-driven transcription potential, as well as the downstream function(s) of Pol III-derived small ncRNA with the goal of deconstructing the relationship between Pol III overactivity, cancer growth, and human health outcomes. 

Lab News                     

05.15.23 | Welcome undergraduate students David Condroski (Computer Science) and Jamie Im (Chemistry)!

05.09.23 | Rajendra passes Biophysics qualifying exam

05.01.23 | Anshita and Leela receive Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURFs)

04.10.23 | Sihang passes CDB preliminary exam

04.04.23 | Jenny passes CDB preliminary exam

02.08.23 | Sihang's review on the Pol III transcriptome is published in WIREs RNA!


01.12.23 | Jenny's mini-review on Pol III RPC7 subunits (POLR3G and POLR3GL) is published in Frontiers Molecular Biosciences!


10.22.22 | Sihang and Jenny presented their work at the CDB

Cell and Developmental Biology Retreat, congratulations Sihang on winning a 3MT award!

09.01.22 | Welcome MCB undergraduate students Anshita Jayanth and Leela Mouli and Graduate Student Simón Lizarazo from Molecular and Integrative Physiology (MIP)

01.12.22 | Welcome graduate student Rajendra K C from the Center for Biophysics & Quantitative Biology (CBQB)

11.01.21 | Hello World from the Van Bortle Lab. Welcome graduate students Sihang Zhou and Ruiying (Jenny) Cheng from Molecular & Cell Biology (MCB)

[ group photos ]

Group Members 

Kevin Van Bortle

Assistant Professor

Cell and Developmental Biology | Cancer Center at Illinois (affiliate)


Sihang Zhou

Graduate Student

Cell and Developmental Biology


Rajendra K C

Graduate Student

Biophysics & Quantitative Biology


Ruiying Cheng

Graduate Student

Cell and Developmental Biology


Simn Lizarazo 

Graduate Student

Molecular and Integrative Physiology


Anshita Jayanth

Undergraduate Student

Molecular and Cellular Biology


Leela Mouli

Undergraduate Student

Molecular and Cellular Biology


Grace He

Undergraduate Student

Integrative Biology


David Condroski

Undergraduate Student

Computer Science


Jamie Im

Undergraduate Student



Selected Publications

The Pol III transcriptome: Basic features, recurrent patterns, and emerging roles in cancer.

Zhou S, Van Bortle K#.

Wiley Interdiscip Rev RNA. 2023 Feb 8:e1782. doi: 10.1002/wrna.1782

RNA polymerase III transcription and cancer: A tale of two RPC7 subunits.

Cheng R, Van Bortle K#.

Front Mol Biosci. 2023 Jan 12;9:1073795. doi: 10.3389/fmolb.2022.1073795.

A cancer-associated RNA polymerase III identity drives robust transcription and expression of snaR-A noncoding RNA.

Van Bortle K, Marciano DP, Liu Q, Chou T, Lipchik AM, Gollapudi S, Geller BS, Monte E, Kamakaka RT, Snyder MP.

Nat Commun. 2022 May 30;13(1):3007. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-30323-6

Topological organization and dynamic regulation of human tRNA genes during macrophage differentiation.

Van Bortle K, Phanstiel DH, Snyder MP.

Genome Biol. 2017 Sep 20;18(1):180. doi: 10.1186/s13059-017-1310-3

Static and Dynamic DNA Loops form AP-1-Bound Activation Hubs during Macrophage Development.

Phanstiel DH*, Van Bortle K*, Spacek D, Hess GT, Shamim MS, Machol I, Love MI, Aiden EL, Bassik MC, Snyder MP.

Mol Cell. 2017 Sep 21;67(6):1037-1048.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2017.08.006

Integrated tRNA, transcript, and protein profiles in response to steroid hormone signaling.

Van Bortle K, Nichols MH, Ramos E, Corces VG.

RNA. 2015 Oct;21(10):1807-17. doi: 10.1261/rna.052126.115

Insulator function and topological domain border strength scale with architectural protein occupancy.

Van Bortle K, Nichols MH, Li L, Ong CT, Takenaka N, Qin ZS, Corces VG.

Genome Biol. 2014 Jun 30;15(6):R82. doi: 10.1186/gb-2014-15-5-r82

[ full publication list ] 


MCB545: Functional Genomics in Principle and Practice (3 credit hours)

Spring Semester (2023)

Graduate-level course that emphasizes core concepts and methods in functional genomics. Students are introduced to Linux / HPC environments, programming in R, and statistical methods . Students are tasked with retrieving, processing, and integrating multiple genomic modalities (shRNA RNA-seq, ChIP-seq, eCLIP) to address questions related to the regulation and function of a specific DNA-RNA-binding protein, with the overall goal of gaining proficiency in computational analysis





601 S. Goodwin Ave. 

Urbana, IL 61801