Dr Sonia Rocha

Sonia Rocha

Position: CR-UK Senior Research Fellow, Reader and Deputy-Head of The Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression

Address: College of Life Sciences, University of Dundee

T: +44 (0) 1382 38 5792


Website: Rocha Lab Website


Originally from Portugal, Dr Rocha has been at the University of Dundee since 2000 and has led her own research group since 2005. Her work is based in the Centre for Gene Regulation and Expression and has focused on investigating the crosstalk between tumour suppressors and the NF-kappaB family of transcription factors.

Dr Rocha completed her undergraduate biology degree at Porto University, following which she obtained a fellowship from the Portuguese government, to work for one year as a research assistant in a joint project between Porto University and Uppsala University in Sweden. She completed her PhD in Zurich, Switzerland and afterwards moved to Dundee to join the group of Neil Perkins in the Biochemistry Department of the University of Dundee.


The lab of Dr Rocha works to investigate gene regulation during hypoxia

Hypoxia (low levels of oxygen) is involved in a variety of patho- and physiological conditions such as cancer, ischemia (stroke and cardiac arrest), acute renal failure and intense muscle contraction during exercise. It also constitutes a great challenge to current cancer therapies, in particular in the treatment of solid tumours since many current therapies rely on the formation of reactive oxygen species). During hypoxia, gene expression is mainly controlled by the transcription factor hypoxia inducible factor-1 (HIF-1). HIF-1 is composed of HIF-1alpha and HIF-1beta subunits. While HIF-1beta is present at detectable levels, HIF-1alpha is rapidly degraded at normal oxygen tensions. Despite the identification of the crucial role for HIF-1 in hypoxia induced gene expression much is still unknown about the mechanisms of gene regulation and expression under such a physiologically relevant condition.

As well as her research, Dr Rocha teaches Molecular and Cellular Biology at level 3, Molecular Oncology at level 4 and lectures as part of the MRes Cancer Program.

Read more about Dr Rochas research


PHD1 links Cell-Cycle progression to oxygen sensing through hydroxylation of the centrosomal protein Cep192. Moser S, Bensaddek D, Ortmann B, Maure JF, Mudie S, Blow JJ, Lamond AI, Swedlow JR, and Rocha S. (2013) Dev. Cell.PMID: 23932902

FMN2 is a novel regulator of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21. Yamada K, Ono M, Bensaddek D, Lamond AI, and Rocha S. (2013) Cell Cycle. PMID: 23839046

Identification and functional characterization of FMN2, a regulator of the cyclin dependent kinase inhibitor p21. Yamada K, Ono M, Perkins ND, Rocha S, Lamond AI. 2013 Mar 7; 49(5):922-933. Molecular Cell. PMID: 23375502

TFR1 interacts with the IKK complex and is involved in IKK-NF-kappaB signalling. Kenneth NS, Mudie S, Naron S, and Rocha S. (2013) Jan 1; 449(1): 275-284. Biochemical Journal. PMID:23016877

Melvin, A. and Rocha S. (2012) Chromatin as an oxygen sensor and active player in the hypoxia response. Cell Signal 24 (1), 35-43. PMID 21924352

van Uden, P., Kenneth, N.S., Webster, R., Muller, A., Mudie, S., and Rocha, S. (2011) Evolutionary conserved regulation of HIF-1beta by NF-kappaB. Plos Genetics 7, e1001285. PMID 21298084

Culver, C., Melvin, A., Mudie, S., and Rocha S. (2011) HIF-1alpha depletion results in SP1 mediated cell cycle disruption and alters the cellular response to chemotherapeutic drugs. Cell Cycle 10 (8), 1-12. PMID 21412054

Melvin, A., Mudie, S., and Rocha, S. (2011) The chromatin remodeler ISWI regulates the cellular response to hypoxia role of FIH. Mol. Cell Biol. 22 (21), 4171-4181. PMID 21900490

Culver, C., Sunqvist, A., Mudie, S., Melvin, A., Xirodimas, D., and Rocha, S. (2010) Mechanism of Hypoxia Induced NF-kappaB. Mol. Cell Biol.PMID 20696840 View Paper

Kenneth, N. S., Mudie, S., and Rocha, S. (2010). IKK and NF-kappaB-mediated regulation of Claspin impacts on ATR checkpoint function. EMBO J. 29, 2966-2978. PMID 29657549 View Paper

Kenneth, N., Mudie, S., van Uden, P., and Rocha, S. (2009). SWI/SNF regulates the cellular response to hypoxia. J. Biol. Chem. 284, 4123-4131. PMID 19097995 View Paper

'You need to decide what you love and then work hard to achieve it.'

Q & A with Sonia Rocha

I was drawn to the University of Dundee by the amazing facilities, the world leading research groups and the collegiality of the environment.

Despite many famous people in the University of Dundee, everybody is respected and listened to in the same manner. Also researchers are more than willing to share their resources, expertise and time. This is quite unique and you always feel supported.

I have had many highs and many lows in my career.

I would chose two main highlights, one receiving the prestigious Cancer Research UK Senior Research Fellowship, and two passing my tenure review at the University of Dundee.

Of course being able to start my own research group and having the chance to work with amazing people is also one of the main highlights in my career.

I hope that more and more women take a change at having a career in Science, so that more equality is present and also more of the wasted talented is brought to the area.

A career in Science is hard, full of stressful moments, but I always think that if one is ambitious and wants to be good at what they do, all professions are the same, at times really hard, because one puts pressure on oneself.

The importance thing is loving what you do.

This is a hard question to answer.

For me, a good role model is someone that inspires, encourages and supports others by being the best that they can be. Someone approachable, willing to share experiences and demonstrate that even when things are bad, there is a solution for the problem. Someone that succeeds by helping others do well.

I try to be organised in the day, so that I can get home at a reasonable time to share quality time with my partner and baby girl. Sometimes this is not possible, but for the most part I do try.

I love the science and engaging with interested and dedicated researchers. Having discussion and being able to put in practice almost all of the crazy ideas in a project. Also seeing students develop in their studies, from inexperienced and often insecure to really accomplished researchers.

Hard to answer this, since as started in my career my supervisors have always been very kind and shared with me all their ups and downs. As such I think I was prepared for these. I think, some advice on how to handle difficult people would have been good.

However, when I started my research group I did attend a workshop run the University of Dundee on team leading, which made me feel realise that there is not just one way of running a team, and since everybody is different, they will need different ways of interaction.

I had the good fortune of being trained and supported by excellent research leaders that have helped and still do, by sharing their experiences with me.

My PhD advisor Martin Pruschy, was very good at starting my independence and respecting my ideas. My postdoc advisor, friend and mentor to the day, Neil Perkins, made me believe I could do this and supported me to the maximum possible to make it happen.

Additional mentoring by Angus Lamond, Jason Swedlow and Inke Nathke has helped me through the years of running my laboratory and general doing research that I love. In addition, a great number of collaborators have made my research enormously better, and more enjoyable!