Rice University

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Speaker: Ilya Levental
Assistant Professor of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology
UTHealth Medical School University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

The Structure and Function of the Mammalian Plasma Membrane

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
4:00 PM  to 5:00 PM

280  Brown College
Rice University
6500 Main St
Houston, Texas, USA

Though the structure-function relationship of polypeptides is one of the core dogmas of molecular cell biology, the functional aspects of membrane structure have been little explored. The existence of lipid rafts and their involvement in diverse cellular processes suggests that such structure could be an important contributor to cell function and pathophysiology. We are using classical cell biology, biophysics, synthetic biology and computational modeling to characterize the role of membrane structure in the regulation of cell function. Specifically, we are focusing on the structural mechanisms that determine protein association with ordered membrane domains called lipid rafts. For this problem, we are using a novel and exciting model system wherein Giant Plasma Membrane Vesicles (GPMVs) isolated directly from live cells are observed to phase separate into microscopic domains that sort components in accordance with the lipid raft hypothesis. Using direct, quantitative analysis of raft partitioning of native and model proteins, we have shown that the length of a protein transmembrane domain determines raft association and that modification by saturated fatty acids (palmitoylation) can be used as a post-translational control mechanism for raft targeting of the majority of integral membrane proteins. Finally, raft association correlates directly with sub-cellular localization, implicating lipid-driven phase separation as a mechanism for protein sorting.

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