Studying lipid-protein Interactions

elizabeth mann, Phd. and edgar kooijman, Phd.Centuries of research and discovery have given scientists a fairly comprehensive understanding of human biology, but some of the body’s most fundamental processes still aren’t understood.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded a three-year, $423,000 grant to two Kent State researchers to study one of those biological fundamentals in depth.

Lipid droplets are fat particles critical to the supply and regulation of energy within the cell and serve various other roles in diverse cellular processes.

Edgar Kooijman, PhD, associate professor of biological sciences, and Elizabeth Mann, PhD, professor of physics, both in Kent State’s College of Arts and Sciences, will spend the next few years researching how proteins form inside the cell target and bind to the surfaces of lipid droplets, where they regulate droplet structure and function. 

Lipid droplets are fat particles critical to the supply and regulation of energy within the cell and serve various other roles in diverse cellular processes.

“Over the past few decades biologists have found all kinds of different roles for these droplets/particles,” Kooijman says. “Viruses use lipid droplets to replicate, different cellular pathways flow through lipid droplets, and there are lots of connections between these droplets and many disparate cellular processes.”

While much is known about how proteins bind to the lipid membranes that compartmentalize complex cells, little is known about how proteins interact with lipid droplets.

Mann and Kooijman say a better understanding of protein-lipid interactions could lead to potential advances in treatment of lipid-related diseases like diabetes and atherosclerosis.

“Type 2 diabetes is essentially insulin resistance,” Kooijman says. “One of the things we know happens in muscle cells is that if these cells accumulate too much fat (oil), it leads to dysregulation of the insulin sensing machinery and the inability to properly respond to the insulin signal—which ultimately leads to insulin insensitivity.” In addition to the research itself, the grant provides funding for both professors to offer meaningful research experiences to students from lower socioeconomic and minority backgrounds, with the goal of increasing STEM degrees among diverse students.

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POSTED: Thursday, September 12, 2019 - 10:50am
UPDATED: Thursday, September 19, 2019 - 10:20am
WRITTEN BY:
Dan Pompili