Our laboratory is interested in the fundamental question of how the cell controls the morphology and structure of its membranes.
We are particularly interested in understanding the mechanism of membrane remodeling by a family of proteins called the dynamin-related proteins (DRPs). This protein family is of enormous interest because its members are intimately involved in membrane remodeling, fusion and division events at many different membranes within the cell. For example, dynamin, the most intensely studied DRP, is responsible for the scission step in endocytosis, a process whereby the cell can internalize small vesicles from the plasma membrane. Other members of the family are required for division and fusion of mitochondria and remodeling of other organelles, such as the endosome.
We are particularly interested in the function of the DRPs in autophagy-related processes. Autophagy is a collective term that refers to several cellular vacuole or lysosome-targeted degradation pathways. Pathways of autophagy allow a cell to deliver cytosolic components or organelles to the vacuole or lysosome for degradation. Under conditions of cellular stress, autophagy is greatly induced to facilitate adaptation and survival. In humans, impaired autophagy has been linked to a variety of metabolic and age-related disorders, as well as neurodegenerative diseases. For all pathways of autophagy to function properly, extensive remodeling of the membranes of participating organelles is required. Autophagic processes therefore present an outstanding model system to study membrane remodeling.
Our laboratory is focused on understanding the roles and mechanisms of action of the DRPs in autophagic membrane remodeling events. We use cell biological, structural and high throughput genetic approaches to study pathways of autophagy in our chosen model organism, budding yeast.