CENTER FOR STRUCTURAL BIOLOGY
Structural biology provides a view of life at the molecular and atomic levels. The high-resolution structures of proteins, DNA, RNA, and small molecules are the "blueprints" for both the structure and function of cells. They can reveal in intricate detail how enzymes catalyze reactions, how cells receive signals from the outside, or how genes are turned on and off during development. High-resolution structures can also reveal how mutations can have disastrous effects on normal cellular function, often leading to cell death or to uncontrolled cell growth and cancer.
At the core of the Center for Structural Biology are state-of-the-art facilities for x-ray diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, and computation. These facilities provide the tools for solving molecular structures and are being used for studies in the areas that follow.
Membrane Proteins: A New Frontier
A rapidly emerging area of study in structural biology is the field of membrane proteins. Of the more than 140,000 genes in the human genome, roughly 20-30% code for integral membrane proteins. These proteins have a vast array of functions ranging from receptors of cellular signals to channels for transporting ions and small molecules. Most importantly, membrane proteins represent the cellular targets for approximately 60% of all drugs currently manufactured.
Researchers at Stony Brook have pioneered novel nuclear magnetic resonance approaches for determining the structures of membrane proteins. High resolution structures allow us to understand how these proteins function in their normal states and how they malfunction in disease.
Signal Transduction: How Cells Communicate
Cells have many mechanisms for relaying signals from the cell surface to the transcription machinery in the nucleus or to ion channels spanning membrane boundaries. A major focus for the CMM and the Center for Structural Biology is on the proteins that comprise these signal transduction pathways. These pathways will help us understand how cells communicate with and respond to their environment. They are extremely important in cancer research, because mutations in these pathways are frequently associated with cancer.
Enzyme Mechanisms and Catalysis
Enzymes represent the molecular machinery that is ultimately responsible for cellular function. Research at Stony Brook targets a wide array of enzymes ranging from those responsible for DNA repair to those involved in the biosynthesis of key metabolic intermediates and cofactors. Knowledge of enzyme structure and mechanism provides the clues needed for designing inhibitors to block enzyme function, or for engineering new proteins with novel catalytic capabilities.