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Stachowiak Receives NIH funding to Study Disordered Proteins in Membrane Traffic

headshot of Jeanne Stachowiak

How disease progresses at the cellular level is important for researchers to understand in order to develop improved drug delivery methods and treatments. Professor Jeanne Stachowiak’s lab is interested in what drives membrane traffic, the essential cellular process by which molecular cargo is transported.

The prevailing view has been that structured protein motifs drive membrane traffic, but Stachowiak’s lab is more interested in the intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs)—molecules without a defined structure--that are also present.

Her lab has received a four-year NIH grant to study the role of IDPs on membrane traffic. Researchers in her lab have previously demonstrated that IDPs are highly efficient drivers of membrane remodeling, and now they plan to determine how molecules without a defined structure are able drive membrane bending and fission.

“Our findings are unexpected and somewhat paradoxical because they imply that the proteins with the least defined molecular structures may ultimately be the most important for controlling the structure of membranes,” Stachowiak says.

The goal of the proposed work is to explain the physical roles of IDPs in membrane traffic by measuring the impact of entropic pressure on key steps of the process. The significance of this work lies in its potential to change how researchers think about the molecules and mechanisms that control membrane traffic. Further understanding of the properties influencing membrane traffic will create new opportunities to control the process and provide a set of physical tools to manipulate receptor recycling and signaling.