Unraveling the molecular mysteries of neurodegenerative diseases

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An International team of researchers – including winners of Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) programmes -based at the Malopolska Centre of Biotechnology (MCB) from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, has cracked the atomic structure of an important cellular “bodyguard”. The Elp3 protein helps to properly produce all other cellular proteins and thereby protects us from neurodegenerative diseases. The results of their research were published this week in Nature Communications

The study uncovers the three-dimensional structures of the Elp3 protein from different organisms and shows that their shape and function are identical even in distantly related species. In addition, the authors also elucidate the mystery of the mechanism that lies behind Elp3’s cellular function. Understanding the structure of a protein allows us to raise central questions like “How does this protein work?”, “How do mutations affect the function of this protein?” or “How can we block the activity of the protein?”.

As mutations occurring in Elp3 are associated with severe human diseases, such as cancer or neurodegenerative diseases, it is of major importance to phrase and answer these questions as fast and as precise as possible” says the lead author dr Ting-Yu Lin. Lessons learned from the structure of proteins allows us to understand the molecular reasons for diseases and helps us to develop better diagnostic tools and novel therapeutic strategies for the future.

The concept of the project and its realization was conducted entirely at MCB, the excellence research centre for life sciences of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. The group of international scientists from Taiwan, France, Austria and Poland works at the Max Planck Research Group led by dr Sebastian Glatt (www.glatt-lab.pl). The study was supported by an OPUS grant from National Science Centre and the Homing program from the Foundation for Polish Science.

The determination of the Elp3 structure was strongly facilitated by the excellent scientific equipment located in the Structural Biology Core Facility at MCB. This open access service platform at MCB/UJ was established with the help of a Team Tech Core Facility grant from the Foundation for Polish Science. The facility supports internal and external research groups to conduct crystallography and cryo-EM projects at the highest international level – if you are interested in using the facility please go to www.structuralbiology.pl.

Pictured: dr Ting-Yu Lin and dr Sebastian Glatt (photo: private archive)