Structural biology of cellular signaling
We focus on several molecular systems that play key roles in signal transduction. Our goals are to obtain a mechanistic understanding ; how the molecules interact, transmit and respond to various cues on the most basic level of physics and chemistry; and how this understanding can forge greater progress in comprehending the general biology to which they are pivotal.
Calcium ions play a unique and critical role in cellular communication. As the Nobel laureate, Otto Loewi, who co-discovered the chemical basis for nerve transmission, said in 1959, “Ja, Kalzium, das ist alles!” Due to this role, a vast molecular apparatus for sensing and regulation of calcium’s movement has evolved.
Electrical signals in excitable cells are due to sodium and potassium channels. Sodium channels propagate the signal by their opening, allowing an inward ion current and depolarizing the cellular membrane. Potassium channels open in response, allowing an outward ion current and repolarizing the membrane.
Proteins signal in myriad ways. Some mechanisms include regulated degradation. Others include molecular association as seen with protein-protein interactions. Still others employ post-translational modifications e.g. protein phosphorylation.