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Petri Kursula lab
Research

Our Research Topics

We work on several aspects of macromolecular structure, function, and dynamics. Under the tabs below, you can find some of our main interests. We have broad scientific interests and are willing to collaborate on different kinds of structural biology projects.

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Petri Kursula

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Myelin proteins

Myelin is a specialized membrane structure in the vertebrate nervous system, enabling the fast ‘saltatory’ conduction of nerve impulses. The myelin sheath is formed by the differentiated plasma membrane of a myelinating glial cell (Schwann cell or oligodendrocyte), which wraps itself tightly around the axon, forming a compact multilayered membrane complex with a very low solvent content. Biochemically, myelin is a unique membrane, and most major myelin proteins are specific to myelin. Essentially all myelin-specific proteins interact with lipid bilayers, as integral or peripheral membrane proteins. Neurological diseases, including multiple sclerosis and peripheral neuropathies, occur upon autoimmune attack against myelin or due to inherited mutations in myelin protein genes.

Our main biological focus lies within the myelin sheath and especially its protein components: What do their folded structures look like, alone and in complexes? How do these molecules interact with membranes and the cytoskeleton, how are they arranged on the membrane, and how do they contribute to the formation and maintenance of the compact structure of myelin? And last but not least, what can we learn about the myelin-related handicapping diseases from the structures of myelin proteins and their ligands?

Structural neurobiology

In addition to myelin, we are interested in molecular mechanisms of neurological diseases and neuronal function in general. Understanding molecular defects that may lead to disorders at the atomic level is a fascinating goal. We carry out several collaborative projects with geneticists and clinicians to resolve the molecular bases of nervous system disease. In addition, we work on several neuronal proteins known to be of importance in nervous system development and function. 

Protein-membrane interactions

Stemming from our interest in myelin proteins, we are in general interested in various aspects of protein-membrane interactions. For these studies, we use a variety of biophysical techniques as well as computer simulations. A further interest in these systems comes from the myelin sheath, which is a tightly packed multilayeres membrane; the structure and dynamics of proteolipid multilayers is one of our long-term goals. 

Ultrahigh-resolution protein crystallography

A hobby project for some of us is to solve protein 3D structures at sub-atomic resolution, to reveal details of molecular structure. One often observes unexpected geometry of certain amino acids in these structures, which can be linked to protein function, strain in the 3D structure, or directly to function, such as enzyme catalysis. 

Intrinsically disordered proteins

Also stemming from our interest in myelin proteins, we are interested in various aspects of protein disorder. This includes for example lipid membrane interactions, protein-protein complexes, and liquid-liquid phase separation. Of specific interest are IDPs that are targets for disease-causing mutations in humans.