Cells are remarkable!
Every one of us has trillions.
Cells also never sit still. Cells move. Everything inside a cell moves. All the time.
There are thousands of different types of cells. Like little robots they work together to keep us alive and healthy. While the blueprint for each cell is stored in our genes, what a specific cell type does is determined by its shape and internal structure. For example, nerve cells or neurons – such as the ones on the left – make long extensions that transmit information to other cells. Ultimately, the complexity of the connections of almost 80 billion neurons in the brain makes us think and move.
Cell shape and movements are controlled by the cytoskeleton, proteins that reversibly assemble into filaments, modulate the properties of these filament networks and exert forces. Microtubules are one of the three major cytoskeleton filament systems traversing the inside of all eukaryotic cells – i.e. plants, animals and fungi. Microtubules organize into an always changing network of directional tracks essential for intracellular motions including long-range transport inside cells, determining the front and back of migrating cells, and segregation of the genetic material during cell division.
Current research in the Wittmann lab centers on how proteins that modulate the dynamics and properties of the microtubule cytoskeleton contribute to the generation of complex cell shapes and function, for example during neuron morphogenesis. We are particularly interested in +TIPs, a diverse group of proteins that bind to growing microtubule ends and organize microtubule network orientation and function. We also work on a protein called doublecortin that recognizes different microtubule geometries in developing neurons and is mutated in neurodevelopmental disease.
To address these questions, we use induced pluripotent stem cell systems in combination with modern genome editing, optogenetics and quantitative microscopy of living cells. We are motivated by our belief that understanding fundamental mechanisms of how cells work will allow new approaches to restore cell function when something has gone wrong in disease.
We are always looking for people that share our enthusiasm for cells, the cytoskeleton and microscopy.
We show that +TIP complexes organize secretory transport toward cell-matrix adhesions.
Doublecortin only expressed in developing neurons recognizes straight GDP-microtubules.
We construct a photo-sensitive EB1 and test consequences on microtubules and cells.
Microtubule dynamics review and our thoughts on how cells control microtubule growth.
We examine how conserved histidines in MAPT(tau) repeats modulate microtubule binding.
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