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Researchers in Heidelberg Investigate Intracellular Transport

Third funding period: over EUR 12 million from DFG for Collaborative Research Centre 638

After positive international evaluation, Heidelberg University’s Collaborative Research Centre 638 “Dynamics of Macromolecular Complexes in Biosynthetic Transport” will be continuing its work for another four years.

Model of a nuclear pore
Picture: SFB 638

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved funding to the tune of approx. EUR 12.4 million for this third and last funding period. The integrated research venture comprises 17 projects in which scientists from various disciplines investigate how and with what consequences large molecular complexes are transported within cells and localised to the right places.

Processes for which the operation of intracellular transport is of major significance are manifold. They include the control of an organisms’ “internal clock”. Likewise, they are crucial for the ability to produce correctly folded proteins at the right time and to make them available inside a cell or in an organism at the right location. Such mechanisms are exploited by viruses for their formation and for their transport out of infected cells. “There are many other examples of how this sector of basic research touches on medical issues,” says the coordinator of the Research Centre, Prof. Dr. Felix Wieland of Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center. “They include widespread neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, in which the correct folding of proteins plays a crucial part, or hyperlipidemia, where the transport of cell surface proteins may be dysfunctional.”

Prof. Wieland emphasises that Heidelberg is internationally up among the front runners in the molecular life sciences. “The scope of the issues we are working on here enables us to employ an interdisciplinary approach within the Research Centre that is highly unusual both methodologically and in terms of content,” says Prof. Wieland. The work done so far by SFB 638, which was set up in 2004, has produced “exciting results”. One example is the description of the formation and cell-exiting mechanism of AIDS viruses, another the definition of the cell-internal location of formation of so-called flavivirus particles. The scientists have also succeeded in deciphering a general mechanism of membrane scission. In addition, they have put together substructures of the nuclear pore in the test tube, which Wieland refers to as a major advance on the road to understanding one of the most complex structures in cells.

“One fascinating aspect of this integrated research venture is that in many cases findings from our basic research have a profound relevance for important medical issues,” Prof. Wieland adds. Alongside Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center (BZH), Center for Molecular Biology (ZMBH) and Centre for Organismal Studies (COS), virological projects at the Medical Faculty Heidelberg and a research venture by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) are also involved in the Collaborative Research Centre “Dynamics of Macromolecular Complexes in Biosynthetic Transport”.

For more information, go to

Prof. Dr. Felix Wieland
Heidelberg University Biochemistry Centre
phone: +49 6221 54-4150

Communications and Marketing
Press Office, phone: +49 6221 54-2311

Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch | idw
Further information:

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