They are termed adhesion G protein-coupled receptors. These receptors are involved in a wealth of vital functions in the body and therefore represent a promising target for drugs, yet relatively little is known about how they work. A new research unit is keen to change this.
Seeing, smelling, tasting, when the heart beats, when hormones do their job – during all these processes, and many others, important tasks are undertaken by a certain class of receptors, known as G protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs for short.
Dr. Tobias Langenhan, head of the new DFG research unit “Elucidation of Adhesion-GPCR Signaling”.
Photo: Gunnar Bartsch
Hundreds of them are encoded in the human genome and sit on the surface of cells, where they receive signals, which they transfer to the cell interior. One indication of their importance is the fact that around half of all clinically approved drugs target these receptors and, in doing so, treat ailments as varied as, for example, hypertension, asthma, and Parkinson’s disease. So, from a scientific perspective, these receptors are “a treasure trove” for the development of new therapeutics.
The new research unit
Adhesion GPCRs form a sub-group of this receptor class. They are the focus of a new research unit that has now been approved by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Its spokesperson is the Würzburg medic and neurobiologist Dr. Tobias Langenhan.
The team includes scientists from the universities of Würzburg, Leipzig, Mainz, Erlangen-Nuremberg, and the Amsterdam Medical Center of the University of Amsterdam. By pooling their expertise in this field it is hoped that they will break new ground together. The DFG will be contributing around two million euros to fund the project over the next three years; an extension of a further three years is possible.
“What do they feel? How do they translate stimuli into a cellular response? And what happens when they are missing?” The scientists involved in the research unit want to find answers to these three questions over the next few years, explains Tobias Langenhan.
There are 33 varieties of adhesion GPCRs in the human body. They are important control centers in the brain and in the immune system; they play a significant role in the development of the heart and blood vessels as well as in other processes. And, although they are among the oldest and largest surface proteins in humans, the way in which they work is still largely a mystery.
When receptors are missing
“We now know a little about what happens when they are missing in certain areas of the body,” says Langenhan. This can cause, for example, the development of Usher syndrome, a common congenital hearing and visual impairment. Or it may lead to a developmental disorder of the brain – “bilateral frontoparietal polymicrogyria”.
Here the cortex folds itself into countless flat gyri; the afflicted suffer from seizures, movement disorders, and retarded mental development. Tumor cells, too, feature faulty adhesion GPCRs, though a causal relationship has yet to be proven in this case. “Fundamental principles of the way in which these receptors work are not yet understood,” says Langenhan. And this is where the work of the new research unit will begin.
Physiology, genetics, pharmacology, biochemistry, structural biology, and pathology: a wide variety of disciplines are represented in the new research unit and will all play their part in shedding light on the signaling behavior of adhesion GPCRs. Developing new drugs is not the primary objective.
“What we do is basic research,” explains Tobias Langenhan. Not until the mechanisms in healthy people are understood can well-founded conclusions be drawn about the pathology, he says. That is not to say, however, that the scientists are completely ignoring any relevance to patients. Langenhan can well envisage the involvement of clinical partners in the potential second period of funding if it goes ahead.
Tobias Langenhan (36) studied medicine at the University of Würzburg from 1997 to 2004. In 2006, he received a doctorate from the Institute of Anatomy with a thesis in neuroanatomy. From 2004 to 2009, Langenhan studied for a Master’s degree and a doctorate at the University of Oxford on a full scholarship from the Wellcome Trust. It was during his doctorate there that he first turned his attention to the way in which adhesion GPCRs work. Since 2009, he has acted as group leader at the Department of Physiology (focus on neurophysiology) at the University of Würzburg.
Dr. Tobias Langenhan, MSc DPhil (Oxon), T: +49 (0)931 31-88681, firstname.lastname@example.org
DFG research units
A research unit is made up of a team of researchers working together on a research project, according to the DFG’s website. The objective behind supporting research units is to help provide the necessary staff and material resources for close collaboration, usually over six years. Research units often contribute to the establishment of new research directions.
Gunnar Bartsch | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures
17.11.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
High speed video recording precisely measures blood cell velocity
15.11.2017 | ITMO University
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine
17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses