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Biological Questions and Advanced Methodology

Compartmentalization of biochemical reactions is the foundation for the development of life. Biological membranes define cells and subcellular compartments, thus driving distinct cellular processes, metabolic fluxes by concentration and/or charge gradients. However, these compart-ments cannot function in isolation; they must transfer information and matter, including ions, metabolites, proteins, and noxious compounds across the membrane barrier. Cell membranes are therefore equipped with a multitude of membrane proteins that are encoded by approximately one-third of the cell’s genome. These transporters, channels, receptors, and enzymes facilitate transport and information exchange across this boundary. Despite their importance in basically every cellular process, only few membrane proteins are understood as to their precise molecular mechanisms. Although considerable progress has been made recently and despite their paramount importance in biomedical research as exemplified by the fact that more than half of the currently prescribed drugs target membrane proteins, most details of transport and information exchange across biological membranes still have to be worked out. The discrepancy between our level of understanding and the importance of transmembrane processes ensures that this research area will stay in the focus of both basic and translational research for years to come.

The Collaborative Research Center (CRC 807Transport and Communication across Biological Membranes takes a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to study the principles and molecular mechanisms of movement of ions, molecules, and information across membranes in different cellular systems and subcellular compartments. The research center combines a wide range of biochemical and biophysical techniques to elucidate transmembrane processes in mechanistic details with high spatial and temporal resolution. We will elaborate the distinct order of the events during a transfer cycle, their timescales, and their structural bases. Transporter and transmembrane receptors run through sophisticated cycles of conformations, which open a wide spectrum of regulation and interference by cellular components and synthetic or engineered molecules. These conformational states and interaction sites need to be identified and characterized, if possible at atomic resolution, to understand each of these processes and hence open them up for appropriate therapeutic intervention.


Overview of the rapidly developing Campus Riedberg, which harbors all participating institutes of the CRC 807. (Bildnachweis: Luftbildvertrieb Müller)