We want to understand how membrane proteins work and how their structure, function and dynamics are modulated by the lipid bilayer.
Why should you care?
If the membrane represents the walls of a house, its membrane proteins are the doors and windows. More than a third of all (human) genes encode for membrane proteins and these represent a large number of drug targets. Because the cell membrane and its proteins present the first point of interaction of a cell with nutrients, stimuli but also detrimental compounds, the integrity of these “gate keepers” of the cell is absolutely essential for cell survival. The “windows” and “doors” determine who enters and who leaves. As opposed to the simplified analogy of a house however, the membrane lipids can actually shape the structure, function and dynamics of membrane proteins. However, this is not a one way street: Many membrane proteins also actively change either the location of lipid molecules or modify them chemically and therefore directly change the lipid bilayer properties. This in turn may affect membrane protein function… ∞ (ad infinitum)
How lipids change membrane protein function and how specific enzymatic properties of membrane proteins modify lipid molecules and the bulk properties of the lipid bilayer is the main focus of this research group. (read more here…) We currently study these effects in the context of multidrug transporters (which incidentally also often transport lipids) and intracellular ion channels involved in lipid vesicle fusion.