Professor, Department of Chemistry
5351 Chemistry Daniels Building
Protein folding in the cell and Biomolecular spectroscopy
How does a protein with a given amino acid sequence manage to achieve its bioactive and amazingly organized three-dimensional structure? This process, known as protein folding, is one of the most fundamental yet poorly understood events in chemistry and biology. Most studies performed in the past have focused on the in vitrofolding of full-length biopolymers starting from unfolded states generated by high concentrations of denaturants or high temperature. However, these types of unfolded states rarely exist in living cells! Moreover, polypeptide chains start sampling conformational space (and possibly even fold) way before the protein amino acid sequence has been fully synthesized, during a process known as translation. In order to fully understand protein folding, it is therefore important to take the cellular context into account. This is even more important in the case of protein misfolding, i.e., folding gone wrong, which leads to protein aggregation and several deadly neurodegenerative and brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, spinocerebellar ataxia and Huntington’s chorea. Thus, understanding protein folding/misfolding will lead to both fundamental knowledge and long-term benefits to human health.
Students, postdocs and staff members in the Cavagnero group are engaged in exploring the fundamental principles of protein folding and misfolding in the cell. All the studies are performed at atomic or molecular resolution under physiologically relevant conditions. We use a combination of tools from spectroscopy, chemical biology, biochemistry and computation.
The highly interdisciplinary environment in the Cavagnero group encourages students to acquire a wide combination of skills ranging from biology to physical chemistry, develop independent problems solving skills, and be very coooperative with others. Students who graduated from the Cavagnero Group have taken a variety of positions in both academia, teaching and industry, including research positions at Universities and colleges, and employment in pharmaceutical companies and National/Federal laboratories.