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Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center
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DFG Funds Lipid Research in Heidelberg, Dresden and Bonn

Press Release No. 269/2013
22 November 2013
Second funding period approved for Transregional Collaborative Research Centre 83 at Ruperto Carola

The “Molecular Architecture and Cellular Functions of Lipid/Protein Assemblies” Collaborative Research Centre/Transregio, a joint network in lipid research of the universities of Heidelberg, Dresden, and Bonn, will continue its work in a second funding period. After a successful evaluation, the German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved funds of nearly 11 million euros for another four years. Ruperto Carola has the lead role; scientists at the Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center (BZH) coordinate all the cross-institute activities of the CRC/Transregio 83.

Cells are characterizedd by functionally distinct reaction compartments, which are limited by biological membranes allowing the selective exchange of signals and cargo molecules. These membranes contain two key constituents – proteins and lipids. Membrane lipids were originally thought to simply function as structural components that determine the basic architecture of a membrane and serve as “solvents” for membrane proteins. “However, it turned out that lipids control an unexpected array of physiological functions, both during membrane transport and signalling,” explains Prof. Dr. Thomas Söllner of the BZH, spokesperson for the CRC/Transregio. “In these processes, specific lipid-protein contacts play key roles, but only a few have been identified so far. During the previous funding period, CRC/TRR 83 scientists have already accomplished fundamental work by discovering such highly specific lipid-protein interactions and characterizing them in molecular detail.”

The long-term research goal is to understand the contribution of each membrane lipid to the structure and function of a biological membrane. The participating researchers study different membrane model systems, such as the intracellular assembly of virus particles and the structure of intracellular lipid droplets, which play a major role in lipid metabolism. Of additional interest is the controlled fusion of membranes, which regulates the release of neurotransmitters and hormones as well as signal transduction processes at the plasma membrane. To gain fundamental insights into the nature and function of protein-lipid interactions, the CRC/TRR 83 researchers employ and develop innovative technological methods of analysis. In addition, they synthesise new lipid analogues that can be visualised in living cells and can be used to identify specific partner proteins. In order to gain mechanistic and structural insights, selected protein/lipid complexes are being reconstituted from their purified components into functional systems.

Collaborating partners of the Biochemistry Center in the CRC/Transregio 83 include Heidelberg University Hospital, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, the Biotechnology Center (BIOTEC) of the Dresden University of Technology, the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, the Life & Medical Sciences Institute (LIMES) and the Institute of Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn, the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) and the CAESAR research centre in Bonn.

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