Highlights of our Work

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For too long, cellular membranes were considered to merely provide a defense wall for the cell. However, we now know that they constitute one of the most fundamental compartments for the function of a living cell. Key processes such as selective transport and exchange of information between the cell and its environment are mediated by membrane proteins, key players that also form a major site of engagement both for pathogenic species such as viruses to enter the cell and for many drugs to bind to and to exert their beneficial effects. Fascinatingly, we are learning that lipids (fat molecules constituting the cellular membrane) are not just sitting there; rather, they can specifically regulate the function of membrane proteins through diverse mechanisms. But it is very hard to "see" how they accomplish this task. Using microscopic simulations with NAMD and in close concert with advanced experimental techniques, the Center has investigated a broad range of such functional lipid-protein interactions in several recent studies [1,2,3,4,5,6,7], not only identifying specific binding sites for signaling lipids (e. g., cholesterol, or charged lipids such as PIP2 and PIP3) on membrane proteins (e. g., transporters, channels, receptors) with key physiological roles, but also providing important information on how the function of these proteins can be regulated by lipids. These studies have greatly enriched our knowledge on the regulatory roles of lipids in membrane biology and protein function.