Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


The Venus flytrap effect: new study shows progress in immune proteins research


Fragments of viruses and tumors can trigger defense proteins of the immune system to snap close like a Venus flytrap plant. This is the result of a study led by Professor Sebastian Springer, Biochemist at Jacobs University Bremen, together with a multidisciplinary team of colleagues. The study was recently published in the journal “Nature Communications”.

Time and again, humanity has been troubled by virus epidemics. Viruses can invade body cells and multiply inside them, often killing the infected cells and causing diseases. The success of the immune response to viruses, just like the success of vaccination against them, depends on the action of a group of defense proteins called the MHC class I proteins.

The working group of Sebastian Springer with Ankur Saikia, Raghavendra Anjanappa and Sebastian Springer (from left) plus Prof. Dr. Martin Zacharias (TU Munich, second from left).

Professor Sebastian Springer

MHC class I antigen explained

Professor Sebastian Springer

They bind small fragments (called peptides) of virus proteins and hold on to them at the surface of the cell such that the T-killer cells of the immune system can test them, and possibly kill the virus-infected cells.

For many years, researchers have wondered how it is that the inside of the MHC class I proteins, the so-called peptide binding groove, fits so well to the peptides. Of course, an excellent fit is essential for making a stable complex, and so for scientists who would like to understand the nature of the immune response against viruses (and design new vaccines), it is important to know how this excellent fit comes about.

"The problem was", explains Springer, "that no one knew what the empty binding groove looked like and what kind of changes occur upon peptide binding. So we felt we had to figure out the shape, or structure, of the empty peptide binding groove."

That turned out to be much easier said than done. Without the peptide, the MHC class I proteins are flexible and unstable, sticking together and being very difficult to study. So, Springer – together with his colleague, the bioinformaticist Professor Martin Zacharias at the Technical University of Munich – decided to stabilize one particular MHC class I protein named HLA-A*02:01 with a chemical cross bridge called a disulfide bond.

"It was difficult", says Springer, "to figure out where to put the disulfide bond. But with the help of computer simulations we finally found the right place and were able to synthesize a stabilized MHC class I protein in an empty form for the first time.”

Springer then turned to two colleagues, the structural biologists Dr. Rob Meijers and Dr. Maria Garcia-Alai at the Protein Crystallization Facility of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Hamburg, and asked their help in elucidating the structure by X-ray crystallography. After about two years of work, Meijers and his team were successful.

"We are so grateful to Rob because his results really opened our eyes and showed us at a glance what happens when the peptide binds", Springer remembers the moment he saw the data for the first time.

"The peptide binding groove is a long narrow cleft. Now when the peptide binds, it touches a particular place in the binding groove called the F pocket causing a shape change of a large part of the entire groove. It's almost like watching a Venus flytrap catch a fly – the fly only touches one of the tiny hairs inside, and the entire leaf snaps shut." Springer anticipates that the new understanding of this shape change will allow researchers to manipulate peptide binding and with it the immune reaction to viruses.

"Since MHC class I proteins come in many different kinds – about ten thousand different versions exist in the human population – there is a lot to do for us in the future."

About Jacobs University Bremen:
Studying in an international community. Obtaining a qualification to work on responsible tasks in a digitized and globalized society. Learning, researching and teaching across academic disciplines and countries. Strengthening people and markets with innovative solutions and advanced training programs. This is what Jacobs University Bremen stands for. Established as a private, English-medium campus university in Germany in 2001, it is continuously achieving top results in national and international university rankings. Its more than 1,500 students come from more than 120 countries with around 80% having relocated to Germany for their studies. Jacobs University’s research projects are funded by the German Research Foundation or the EU Research and Innovation program as well as by globally leading companies.

For more information:

Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

Jacobs University Bremen

Professor Sebastian Springer
Tel: +49 421 200-3243


Link to the paper:

Melisa Berktas | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Biotechnology: Triggered by light, a novel way to switch on an enzyme
27.05.2020 | Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster

nachricht Complex genetic regulation of flowering time
26.05.2020 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Biotechnology: Triggered by light, a novel way to switch on an enzyme

In living cells, enzymes drive biochemical metabolic processes enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very ability which allows them to be used as catalysts in biotechnology, for example to create chemical products such as pharmaceutics. Researchers now identified an enzyme that, when illuminated with blue light, becomes catalytically active and initiates a reaction that was previously unknown in enzymatics. The study was published in "Nature Communications".

Enzymes: they are the central drivers for biochemical metabolic processes in every living cell, enabling reactions to take place efficiently. It is this very...

Im Focus: New double-contrast technique picks up small tumors on MRI

Early detection of tumors is extremely important in treating cancer. A new technique developed by researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from normal tissue. The work is published May 25 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

researchers at the University of California, Davis offers a significant advance in using magnetic resonance imaging to pick out even very small tumors from...

Im Focus: I-call - When microimplants communicate with each other / Innovation driver digitization - "Smart Health“

Microelectronics as a key technology enables numerous innovations in the field of intelligent medical technology. The Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT coordinates the BMBF cooperative project "I-call" realizing the first electronic system for ultrasound-based, safe and interference-resistant data transmission between implants in the human body.

When microelectronic systems are used for medical applications, they have to meet high requirements in terms of biocompatibility, reliability, energy...

Im Focus: When predictions of theoretical chemists become reality

Thomas Heine, Professor of Theoretical Chemistry at TU Dresden, together with his team, first predicted a topological 2D polymer in 2019. Only one year later, an international team led by Italian researchers was able to synthesize these materials and experimentally prove their topological properties. For the renowned journal Nature Materials, this was the occasion to invite Thomas Heine to a News and Views article, which was published this week. Under the title "Making 2D Topological Polymers a reality" Prof. Heine describes how his theory became a reality.

Ultrathin materials are extremely interesting as building blocks for next generation nano electronic devices, as it is much easier to make circuits and other...

Im Focus: Rolling into the deep

Scientists took a leukocyte as the blueprint and developed a microrobot that has the size, shape and moving capabilities of a white blood cell. Simulating a blood vessel in a laboratory setting, they succeeded in magnetically navigating the ball-shaped microroller through this dynamic and dense environment. The drug-delivery vehicle withstood the simulated blood flow, pushing the developments in targeted drug delivery a step further: inside the body, there is no better access route to all tissues and organs than the circulatory system. A robot that could actually travel through this finely woven web would revolutionize the minimally-invasive treatment of illnesses.

A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (MPI-IS) in Stuttgart invented a tiny microrobot that resembles a white blood cell...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium AWK'21 will take place on June 10 and 11, 2021

07.04.2020 | Event News

International Coral Reef Symposium in Bremen Postponed by a Year

06.04.2020 | Event News

Latest News

Algorithms, gold and holographic references boost biomolecule diffraction

27.05.2020 | Information Technology

Diabetes mellitus: A risk factor for early colorectal cancer

27.05.2020 | Health and Medicine

Ultra-thin fibres designed to protect nerves after brain surgery

27.05.2020 | Health and Medicine

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>