AG Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology

The majority of sensory modalities are based on a common transduction concept that rests upon activation of G-Protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and biochemical signal amplification via a complex network of intracellular effector proteins. The chemical senses represent a prototypical model for such a GPCR-based signaling network. In our research we focus on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of odor detection in vertebrates and invertebrates. We functionally characterize recombinant odorant receptor proteins to identify effective odorants, and investigate receptor interaction partner as well as trafficking mechanisms. 

Figure 1. GFP labeled olfactory sensory neurons in Drosophila melanogaster and mice

Our aim is to identify the complex network of yet uncharacterized protein-protein interactions that are involved in the process of converting odorant stimuli into cellular activation, especially interactions involved in regulating the presence and activity of olfactory receptors and their interaction partners on the cell surface. Special emphasis will be placed on the role of PDZ domain containing proteins, where we are also interested in the impact of their interaction with certain membrane lipids. Compartmentalization of olfactory receptors and other components of the primary signal transduction cascade in the ciliary membrane and ciliary transport processes, which are not only necessary for the assembly, maintenance, and length control, but are also important for the sensory activity of the cilia, are of special interest since ciliary dysfunctions are commonly associated with hypoosmia and/or anosmia. Employing innovative cell biological and biochemical techniques, as well as high-resolution live-cell-imaging and mass spectroscopy (in collaboration), we aim to significantly extend current knowledge of the complex network dynamics and plasticity in chemosensory signaling, as well as in neuronal signaling systems in general.

Figure 2. Cilia of olfactory sensory neurons expressing the odorant receptor MOR-EG (green), labeled with a specific antibody (red)