Our Research Topics
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?
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 develpment and function.
Ultrahigh-resolution protein crystallography